On Broadway: Adapting a ‘Curious Incident’
Planning your next trip to New York, theatre- lovers? Set aside some time for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. After a successful run at the National Theatre in London, the play is now making its Broadway debut at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York City.
Mark Haddon, author of the bestselling novel the play is adapted from, ironically took pride in how seemingly inadaptable his book was. Seven Olivier awards later and now on Broadway, the play presents an example of how theatre can take the emotions and inner-thoughts of a complex novel’s characters and translate them into something suitable for live performance.
The protagonist of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is Christopher, a brilliant 15-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome. While Christopher works to uncover who murdered his neighbor’s dog, the audience is immersed in a unique sensory experience that reflects the inner workings of Christopher’s mind. To address the challenges of adaptation, the playwright Stephen Simons had to make some alterations in narration, one of which included the transfer of some dialogue from Christopher to his special needs teacher.
Set design proved a key component in the creation of Christopher’s world. According to a Newsweek article, the set of white gridded lines crisscrossing across black walls and floors “show us the boggling math and the disassociated reality in Christopher’s mind” which “brilliantly capture the sensory overload in the journey of a sweet, compulsive, instinctive and unpredictably violent child as he investigates the murder of his neighbor’s dog Wellington.”
Light and sound also add to this sensory experience by taking us “inside the mind of a boy who lacks the capacity to lie, read other people’s emotions, tolerate anything unfamiliar or unpredictable or let himself be touched.”
Lastly, the actor’s role proved fundamental to the success of this adaption. In the hopes of correctly representing Christopher, the actor in the New York production, Alexander Sharp, learned about Asperger’s syndrome by reading books, watching documentaries and observing classrooms with students in various stages of the syndrome. In this process, Sharp has had to remain guarded while simultaneously allowing the audience to enter the world of his character.
“He has a hell of a lot going on inside, even if he can’t express it,” Sharp said.