Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Tears at night-time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

My husband had a little cry a few weeks ago. This is not uncommon. He is not one to baulk at public displays of emotion. His wedding speech is legendary. We weren't entirely sure whether he would get through it. I, on the other hand, inhabit the stiff-upper-lip end of the spectrum. It is true that I am thawing with age, but generally speaking I am a dried-eyed kind of girl.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (play).jpg
Via Wikipedia
The trigger for my husband's tears was a trip to our local cinema to watch a live link-up of the National Theatre production, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. We both enjoyed the book by Mark Haddon and had heard good things about the play (it won seven Olivier awards). As we hurried to the cinema, however, we both wondered how on earth you could stage a deeply personal novel set inside the mind of the storyteller: Christopher Boone, an emotionally dissociated teenager.

We were to be proved wrong of course. Using theatre in the round, a minimalist stage design and stylised moves, the play takes you on an emotional journey through Christopher's mind and to the universe beyond.  We enter a world of comic poignancy, where harried parents struggle to cope with their brilliant, autistic son. Equally, Christopher struggles to interact with a local community that fails to understand his limitations. It is a breakdown of empathy on both sides.

Love conquers all

For us, the crux of the drama was watching Christopher's mother and father overcome their (forgivable) failings as parents. "I was not a very good mother, Christopher," writes his mother in a letter. "Maybe if things had been differant (sic), maybe if you'd been differant (sic), I might have been better at it." You feel her pain. She is mourning the boy Christopher might have been had his brain had been wired differently. 

What so moved my husband, however, was the father's fate - both his tenderness for his son and his frustration, but above all the impossibility of Christopher ever understanding the complexity of his father's feelings. 

At the point of crisis, it is the parents' love for Christopher - who can't even let them hug him without screaming - that steers them all back to some kind of equilibrium. It reminded me that we often love our children all the more for being vulnerable. 

In a post-modernist moment, Christopher's teacher Siobhan asks if he would like to turn the novel he is writing into a play. He objects, saying, "I don't like acting because it is pretending that something is real when it's not really real at all so it is like a kind of lie". Herein lies a piece of dramatic irony as there are fundamental truths inherent in a play this good: the power of the performance and the sincerety of the audience's emotional response. And, by the end, even I felt an odd little prickle in the corner of my eyes. 

Cast list
Christopher Boone ... Luke Treadaway
Ed Boone, his father ... Paul Ritter
Judy, his mother ... Nicola Walker

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