Thursday, 9 July 2015

29 June, 2015 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (NT Tour) **

Let me start by quoting Elizabeth Day writing recently in The Observer

"I don't much like the theatre. You're not really allowed to say that, are you? But I'd rather go to the cinema any day of the week. The majority of plays are distinctly average. They do not reflect how people actually speak because dialogue is generally produced to show how clever the writer is or how gifted the actor is delivering it is. The tickets are expensive. The seats are uncomfortable. The audiences are pretentious and pleased with themselves, laughing loudly to show they get obscure jokes and cultural references. Plays are unnecessarily, self-indulgently long. But somehow, because it's theatre, we're all supposed to love it and talk in hushed reverent tones about how great it is."

It’s not often one reads a piece which chimes so exactly with one’s own thoughts, and how refreshing and satisfying to know that others can express such sacrilege with such confidence. Fair enough, she does, as any good columnist will do, slightly over-egg the pudding for maximum effect but I cannot help but agree with the sentiment.

In fact I would go further. I don’t much like Shakespeare. But that’s possibly a subject for another time. Suffice to say that I often find myself drifting off or subject to long periods of boredom in the theatre.  Or I find myself acutely conscious that I am watching an actor performing a role. The suspension of disbelief is a state which I very rarely achieve.
Add music to the mix, however, and my response changes dramatically. Opera and musical theatre are truly wonderful things

I have to say that I found this award-winning NT Production, tiresome and preachy at best, and at worst, quite boring. Bunny Christie’s cuboid set with its graph paper backing, the rectilinear patterns of light on the floor and walls, the video back projections by Finn Ross, a searing soundtrack and specially composed music by Adrian Sutton are impressive and have garnered many plaudits. But no amount of special effects can rescue a production which never really achieves the visceral impact of Mark Haddon’s original novel.

Yes, I know this is all designed to give us an insight into the mind of a young adult with Asperger’s Syndrome, but is it the purpose of a play simply to educate us? And isn’t the case of a high functioning autistic person with a gift for mathematics in danger of reinforcing that rather misguided view that autism is some kind of gift, when for many autistic children at the low-functioning end of the spectrum this is hardly a hepful or useful way of characterising their condition?

This play asks us almost to beatify or venerate Christopher (played on this occasion by Chris Ashby) to the extent of patronising him in a “Look! Isn’t this special needs kid amazing” freak show kind of way. Neither the father (Stuart Laing) nor the mother (Gina Isaac) come across as believable characters; and there is a tinge of cliché and predictability about all the minor characters. Without wishing to provide a spoiler, the eventual culprit responsible for the dog’s gruesome death is simply not believable not only because it is so out of character, but also because the motive is so feeble.

There is no doubting, however, that my reaction was extremely atypical. The audience laughed and oohed and aarred in all the right places. I noticed that this piece of intellectual property is now owned by Warner Bros. so I guess there will eventually be a movie. If so, it will be interesting to see, in light of my opening remarks, how differently I react to it.

Coming up very soon is Lenny Henry in Educating Rita. Oh dear. A much over-rated actor in a somewhat dated play. Let’s just say that my heart is not beating faster in anticipation.

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