DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Sheffield Lyceum Theatre

Reviewer: Ruth Jepson

Director: Marianne Elliott

Based on the novel by: Mark Haddon

Adapted by: Simon Stephens

It’s a dramatic start to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as the audience is thrown right into the action. A very realistic looking dead dog lays in the middle of the stage, a garden fork thrust through its back, a boy curled over it. This is how the show introduces Christopher Boone, aged 15 years, three months and two days, clearly on the autistic spectrum and determined to find the dog’s murderer. Christopher’s detecting will force him to be very brave as he is catapulted from one mystery to another, each discovery impacting deeper and deeper into his own life. His condition gives him a very individual way of looking at the world, and he is going to bring the audience into his own head to help him explain everything from murder, to affairs, to the intricacies of A Level Maths questions.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been staged for a decade now, and is continually proving to be must-see theatre. The way the show pulls the audience into Christopher’s brain is something rarely seen done so well. The set alone – a three sided box of black squares and LED lights with areas which pull out as drawers, cupboards and even light up to represent such humble props as microwaves and fish tanks – is a phenomenal 3D representation of Christopher’s inner logic and compartmentalisation. Throughout the show he pulls props and set pieces from it, creating a massive, stage covering train track, or grabbing chalk to draw on the floor. Projection flies across the walls as we see him figuring things out or self soothing, getting faster as he becomes overwhelmed, partnering with an electronic inspired musical score and blinding flashes of light, which are, at times, complete sensory overload for the audience, exactly as visiting London or being touched by a stranger is to Christopher. Designer Bunny Christie and crew have done a perfect job immersing the audience, and the set is a character in itself.

The standout star of the piece is obviously David Breeds, playing Christopher himself. In the whole two and a half hour run, he only leaves the stage at the interval. The sweat drips off him as he embodies his role, switching tracks and scenes, and being flung about by the ensemble as an astronaut, a detective, or a child struggling to comprehend the London Underground. The physical theatre aspects of the show contrast wonderfully with his stand off relationship with his father Ed (Tom Peters). Peters’ restrained frustration and desperation portrays a very human representation of a parent to a child with autism, one he may not understand fully, but loves nevertheless. Rebecca Root as teacher Siobhan also deserves high praise, providing a narrator role reciting long and complex monologues, while radiating excitement and support for Christopher. The pathos this adds to the final lines of the show is heartbreakingly beautiful.

The whole cast is wonderfully diverse, with representation from a mix of races, genders and disabilities (it is especially refreshing to see Christopher’s Mother Judy played by Sophie Stone, an actress with a hearing impairment, whose disability is absolutely nothing to do with her character). It can be hoped we start to see this level of representation more frequently in modern theatre. And extra special shout out to Toby and Sandy who steal their scenes with no lines whatsoever.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Timeis one of those magical theatre pieces that say important things very simply. While some of it may be overwhelming for younger audiences (particularly those on the spectrum themselves) overall the show is an experience not to be missed. Funny, sad and educational, long may audiences be joining Christopher in his detecting.

Runs until 19th February 2022

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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