The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time review – Hong Kong Arts Festival production fails to move, but play still a dazzling, thrilling ride
National Theatre of Britain production for the Hong Kong Arts Festival is entertaining, funny and a hi-tech exercise in theatre, but it failed to engage the emotions of this reviewer and lead actor is not plausible as his character
Among the most eagerly anticipated offerings of this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival is one of the most awarded theatre productions of recent years: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
First staged in 2012 at London’s National Theatre, the adaptation by Simon Stephens of Mark Haddon’s bestselling book has been a hit with audiences and critics worldwide ever since. In 2013 it swept the board at the Olivier Awards in Britain, and repeated the feat at Broadway’s Tony Awards in 2015. Its success has been further boosted by the book becoming a set text for schools, as evidenced by the number of teenage school groups at Hong Kong’s Lyric Theatre on its first night here.
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The story’s protagonist, Christopher Boone, is a 15-year-old with what he himself describes as “behavioural problems”. Lying somewhere on the autistic scale, he sees the world in an extremely literal way (making him unable to lie), has an extreme aversion to being touched and excels at mathematical problems that can be solved by pure logic. Problems involving human beings, however, are a different matter.
The story opens with Christopher discovering the corpse of his neighbour’s dog, impaled on a garden fork. His investigation of what he regards as a murder leads to revelations about his parents, which push him to embark alone on an epic journey from his home in Swindon to London.
The book has been praised for making readers see the world from Christopher’s point of view, and Marianne Elliott’s production sets out to help the audience do the same.
Dazzling design evokes the way Christopher sees everything from the wonder of the stars and the numbers that flood his mind to the terrors of taking the London Underground (a stunning sequence). This is all thanks to Bunny Christie’s astounding set, Paule Constable’s lighting and Finn Ross’ video.
That said, the innate artificiality of the stage works against the concept – seeing the world through someone else’s eyes is more effective on the page, where readers use their own imagination, or on the screen.
The production is consistently entertaining, often funny and – as a hi-tech, high-energy exercise in theatre – undoubtedly thrilling. It failed, however, to engage my emotions. The adjectives that came to my mind throughout were “clever” or “ingenious”, rather than “moving” or “powerful”.
Even the monologues by Christopher’s parents, recounting the searingly painful experience of loving a child who cannot return that love in a normal way, didn’t touch me the way they were clearly intended to do. The happy ending, meanwhile – which drew a big “aww...” from the audience – struck me as disappointingly facile.
Ironically, Christopher says that he doesn’t like acting because it’s something that isn’t “true”, and that was precisely the problem. The cast had admirable energy and Joshua Jenkins’ performance in the central role was a spectacular display of technique and athleticism, but there is a constant sense of acting with a capital “A” and Jenkins is not plausible as a 15-year-old.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: lead actor talks about the role’s physical demands
Judging by the rapturous reception from a full house, others didn’t share my reservations. Performances continue until March 18, so readers can judge for themselves (though make sure you don’t leave after the first curtain call, as there is a special bonus scene at the very end).
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, National Theatre of Britain. Lyric Theatre, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Runs until March 18. Reviewed March 8