The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: Why You Should See it, Straight from the Horse's Mouth
Mark Haddon's landmark 2003 novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time won instant praise from a whole range of audiences upon release. Instantly heralded as a modern classic work of literature, it won the 2004 Boeke Prize and 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year awards and went on to sell over two million copies worldwide. Not only a critical success, the novel was heralded for its strong representation of neuro-divergency by medical professionals. Being such a fan of the book myself, but also knowing of all its quirks, I was caught off guard when I first heard about the play adaption.
The Simon Stephens-written theatre adaptation of the same name debuted in 2012 at the Royal National Theatre in the UK. It won seven Olivier Awards (a new record), and went on to tour around the world, including a stint on Broadway. It's now Australia's turn, with the National Theatre of Great Britain bringing the story to all major capital cities. Perth audiences can catch this phenomenal production at His Majesty's Theatre from the 8th to 19th of August.
Here to tell you why you absolutely need to see this play is Kaffe Keating, the alternate Christopher for this run of shows who has spent a good lot of his life playing the character himself with the National Theatre. We were very privileged to talk on the phone to Keating as the production got underway in Brisbane.
IN: So I guess the first obvious question is, what’s your connection to the source material (the book by Mark Haddon)?
I remember reading the book when I was a kid, I think when I was about Christopher’s age, actually, weirdly enough. I remember just being completely fascinated by it. It wasn’t until I got the audition to play the part in the show that I re-read it as an adult. It was so interesting, because I’d originally read it as a fifteen or so year old, and then as an adult in my early twenties. I felt a lot more sympathy towards some of the adult characters the second time, particularly the dad, who has a real tough time. But I love the book, I think it it amazing, and it is so helpful for playing the part. That’s exactly what you want as an actor- a whole list of facts about your character that someone else has given you that you don’t have to work out yourself.
IN: For sure, and I imagine trying to embody the role of Christopher in particular would be quite challenging. Apart from drawing from the book, how have you approached this role?
I played the part for the first time in London a few years ago, back in 2015. When I was preparing for it back then… So, at no point in the book or the play does it actually say that Christopher is autistic or that he has Asperger’s Syndrome. However, of course you can’t really ignore that he shares a lot of common symptoms with people who are on that spectrum, or who aren’t neuro-typical. So, we spoke to some people from a school for autistic children, and met a few people who are a bit older. There’s a guy called Keehan who had met at that point every actor who had played Christopher in the UK at that time. Luke Treadaway, who had first played the part, based a few things on him, and I met with him too.
The realisation I came to, which sounds obvious now, is that, of course, people with autism (or people on that very broad spectrum)… No two people are alike. Everybody is unique and different. There’s no sort of stock thing you can do as an actor to portray autism. So I decided to sort of let that go and just go straight from what’s written down in the text. I noted down facts about Christopher, for example he doesn’t like loud noises, he does like space, he doesn’t like the colour yellow but he does like the colour red.
What’s also amazing about the production itself is that so much of the design and the movement and the projections and the sound is doing the work for you. The play takes place inside Christopher’s mind, so you don’t need to do too much. You can just keep it simple, try and mean what your saying and listen to the other actors. The rest of the work is done for you.
IN: I’m also a fan of the book but I haven’t yet managed to see it performed. I guess you sort of just touched on this, but, without giving too much away about all the surprises of the script and the like, how has this story translated across on to stage?
Well, it’s really interesting, because I think Mark Haddon himself said he didn’t see how it could be turned into a play, and he was glad to be proved wrong. He gives a lot of credit to Marianne Elliott and Frantic Assembly and Simon Stephens, who made the piece. It’s really, really faithful to the book. There’s a lot of tiny details. For example, right at the beginning of the book, Christopher is asked to take everything out of his pockets by a policeman. In the book, there’s an illustration of a wooden puzzle that he has on him, and one of the props is perfectly linked to that illustration. The attention to detail is just incredible. It’s so faithful to the source material, yet it’s theatrical as well. It manages to get the best of both worlds, really.
IN: And how has it been working under the director (Marianne Elliott), and what sort of guidance have they given you and the rest of the cast?
I think, again, it’s just coming at it first from the perspective that Christopher is a fifteen year old boy. He’s going through puberty, things are changing, and he’s angry sometimes and he doesn’t know why. It was important to go at the family aspect of things, and the unique way in which he sees the world rather than trying to portray a list of symptoms.
IN: And how has it been to rehearse and perform with such a talented and diverse cast?
Yeah, I’m very grateful. I’ve been lucky enough to perform with quite a wide range of wonderful people in my journey in this show. But this company is brilliant, and great fun. I came to the tour for this second leg, which includes Australia and China, but they have been going before. They have been going all around the world, and they have been going for quite some time. But every night is really fresh, like it’s the first time. It’s great fun.
IN: So, you’ve performed in this role before, but you’ve also performed in a range of other productions, like Our Days of Rage, The Scottish Play [Macbeth] and the like. What’s differentiated the experience working on this play from other previous roles?
Yeah, Christopher has been a really big part of my professional career so far. It’s totally unique, because he just has such a specific way of working. Your whole thing as an actor is to sort of react and respond to what you’re getting from other actors on stage. But Christopher’s understanding of things like facial expressions and metaphor are very different to what we typically have. So, it’s always been about keeping that thing of reacting, listening and being aware of other people, but through how Christopher perceives things. That’s been the big difference, I think.
IN: And finally, the sales pitch question: why should our readers come see this play?
Because it’s really cool!
It’s just such a cool piece of theatre. I’ve never been in anything like it. The set is amazing, and the story too. It’s funny too. That’s the thing, when the first gag in the play lands I think audiences aren’t really sure if they are allowed to laugh or not, but of course they are! it’s great fun, and you go on such an incredible journey with Christopher and all the other characters as well.
IN: It does sound really cool! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us!
No worries man, cheers!