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THEATRE REVIEW: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: A touch of magic, but not enough

There are several clever touches and convincing acting, but this stage production lacks a sense of wonder.

I can see why The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time could be a wonderful stage production. This story of an autistic boy trying to solve the murder of his neighbour’s dog and uncovering a far deeper secret has garnered rave reviews overseas. The tale began as a novel by Mark Haddon and was adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens, who specialises in plays about people who are different, unstable or in turmoil. Christopher, the autistic boy, is a gem of a role and the script captures beautifully his combination of logical genius and social ineptitude. [caption id="attachment_113569" align="alignnone" width="1880"] The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Photo: Supplied[/caption] But my high hopes for a magnetic experience began to quaver within the first few minutes. This local production certainly has moments when the words, actions and clever staging combine in exciting crescendos. Then it tips back into a series of staccato scenes and interjections by the large cast that should be briskly funny, but feel rather messy and too disjointed to let the electricity to flow. Poor amplification marred the show too, particularly for the first few minutes where it was a struggle to hear Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher, (Lesoko Seabe) as she began the narration by reading from his diary. More vocal emphasis from Seabe would have helped, but the sound was weak for several other characters too. Kai Brummer as Christopher is utterly convincing. His rapid-fire delivery doesn’t always let you catch every word but heightens the intensity, and he’s got the emotions down pat. His lack of empathy is startling, and when you see how he reacts and know that a “normal” person would behave or speak differently it focuses the play on the impact the autistic boy has on those around him. The strain of raising a child who won’t let you touch him and has emotional meltdowns makes you sympathetic towards his absent mother and careworn father, who must have spent years thinking “why me?” Ashley Dowds makes a stoic end-of-his-tether father, while Jenny Stead does well as the mother, portraying a sense of helplessness in the face of hurdles she found insurmountable. Six other actors play the peripheral characters, like policemen, neighbours and strangers on a train, but the sheer volume of the cast feels unwieldy. In several scenes the actors are facing the audience, not each other, during conversations, and if that’s intended to underscore the alienation between them it’s unnecessary, because we’ve already grasped that. There are several clever touches in the minimalistic staging, and the sound effects, music and great lighting manage to create a mystical kind of atmosphere. But the strongest element by far is Brummer’s performance as he veers from scared to determined to catatonic as the complex world depletes him. The most memorable scene and one that works best emotionally is when Christopher makes a train journey alone. Here director Paul Warwick Griffin uses the stage set, sound and lighting to good effect to create a daunting train and station. The scurry of people getting on and off at each successive station had me actively hoping young Christopher would recognise his stop and not carry on into some dreadful mishap. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly where the overall weakness lies. Certainly in the unbalanced sound, especially when the background music and clatter from Christopher’s actions drown out the words of a letter from his mother at a point where every word should count. The competent but largely unexciting acting also wraps a muted feel around the whole event, as we watch them act out a boy’s diary instead of being pulled into it. At times it teases you with a touch of magic, but I felt a sense of disappointment where I’d hoped for wonder. DM The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs at Montecasino Theatre until 2 December. Tickets from Computicket

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