Theatre: Audiences still Curious about story

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Back on tour to Sheffield for the second time is the National Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, the multi-award winning play adapted from Mark Haddon’s best-selling book by Simon Stephens.

The tour continues until September but its West End run ends next month, by which time Curious Incident will have had more than 1,600 performances and been seen by almost two and a half million people worldwide.

The original production opened at the NT’s Cottesloe Theatre in September 2012, before transferring to the West End while running in New York from September 2014 until September 2016, the longest-running play on Broadway in over a decade.

Writer Stephens has been involved with it even longer. “I found to my surprise when we were rehearsing in New York the original emails that Mark sent in 2008,” he says. “I wrote it in 2010 and it was produced in 2012, five years ago and it has been performed ever since.

“It hasn’t really changed since then – it is fundamentally the same. It changed slightly when it moved from the Cottesloe into the West End and we changed it a little linguistically when we went to Broadway. There’s no point in having lines people won’t understand and as a result of that when we were in the rehearsal room in New York we made a few tightenings, cut bits of scenes. And then those edits made it into the tour so it is tighter. You know, plays are never finished.”

Curious Incident is the story of 15-year-old Christopher Boone, who has an extraordinary brain and is exceptional at maths while ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. He sets out to solve a mystery of who killed his neighbour’s dog, but his detective work takes him on a frightening journey that upturns his world.

It’s about a boy who is not defined by his condition but his character

Playing the central role of Christopher Boone in this production is Scott Reid (currently appearing in BBC1’s comedy Still Game), with Lucianne McEvoy as his teacher Siobhan, Emma Beattie as Judy, David Michaels as his father Ed, Debra Michaels as Mrs Alexander and Eliza Collings as Mrs Shears.

Although never stated it is taken as read that Christopher has autism but Stephens insisted that’s not what the play is about.

“It’s about a family and about a boy who is not defined by his condition but by his characteristics and it works because people recognise themselves in it rather than it being about an illness.

“It’s also about teaching and I come from a family of teachers. My mum was a teacher and so was my grandfather,” reveals Stephens who himself taught before his playwriting career took off.

Playwright Simon Stephens with pupils at Forge Valley School

Playwright Simon Stephens with pupils at Forge Valley School

“Anyone who has been to school, even if they hated it and left at 16, has one teacher they preferred to any other and who understood them more than any other. No teacher would admit it but they too have favourites. It’s about Christopher and his teacher and to capture that as truthfully and dramatically as possible.”

Stephens still has affinity with education, as evinced by his giving up his Fridays to talk about being a writer in schools in locations on the Curious tour route.

“I’ve been to schools in Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield and it was properly inspiring,” he reports.

“It’s a little bit linked to this coming up but really it’s about saying if you want to be a singer or a poet or a painter you can be. When I was growing up I never felt entitled to be a writer because I never knew they were real things. So just going in and saying, ‘I am a writer, this is my working day, where I work, how I work’, demystifies it and demystification is important.”

Playwright Simon Stephens with pupils at Forge Valley School

Playwright Simon Stephens with pupils at Forge Valley School

He has fitted this in with a busier than ever schedule with no less than five shows opening. This month has brought his collaboration with choreographer Imogen Knight, Nuclear War, at the Royal Court Upstairs and Obsession starring Jude Law and directed by man of the moment Ivo Van Hove at the Barbican.

For the Manchester International Festival he has co-created Fatherland, a verbatim piece investigating fathers, with Scott Graham of Frantic Assembly who did the movement in Curious and Carl Hyde from the band Underworld.

And then in the autumn comes Heisenberg, a play exploring the Uncertainty Principle which opened on Broadway, is to have a new production in the West End directed by Marianne Elliot, the original director of Curious. That will be followed by an adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull at the Lyric, Hammersmith.

“It’s quite bracing to do these things you’ve never done before,” he concludes.