Curious Incident of an Uncomfortable Audience
“Most people are lazy, they never look at anything. I notice everything.”
These words are spoken by Christopher Boone, the play’s protagonist, in an effort to explain his condition to a stranger.
The play Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time begs the audience to experience the plot through Christopher’s eyes. That is, the eyes of a 15-year-old boy on the Autism spectrum.
To call the production of Curious Incident unconventional would be an understatement. The stage is in the shape of an open-faced cube with fluorescent lights around the edges. The walls of the cube are grids with tiny lights on each intersecting point. There is no curtain. Rather, all props are on or around the perimeter of the stage waiting to be used by the actors when the show begins. The props include a soccer ball, water bottles, a chair, and most notably, a stuffed poodle with a garden fork stabbed through its torso.
It is the second day of the show's opening week and there is not one empty red folding seat at the Princess of Wales Theatre.
The show begins very suddenly but on time with a crash of synthesized music and flash of strobe lights. The production is not short of jolts to the senses.
Christopher immediately discovers that his neighbour’s dog (the impaled poodle) is inexplicably murdered. Disturbed by this heinous act, Christopher begins to search for the culprit himself. The mystery unravels when he catches his father in many lies. Terrified and confused, Christopher feels as though he can no longer trust his father and decides to do what no one believes he can do: run away.
Throughout the show, Christopher’s brutal honesty leaves nothing to the imagination.
Joshua Jenkins performance as Christopher is very well-done. Jenkins has to work with a very physically demanding role and puts on a believable act. However, Emma Beattie who plays Judy Boone, Christopher’s mother, is the star of the show. She is superbly talented because the audience feels all of her desperate pleas. The character of Siobhan, played by Julie Hale, is lovely once you realize that she is Christopher’s teacher/shadow and not the show’s narrator.
The ensemble of seven actors is on stage for the majority of the show even if they have no lines. They have very versatile roles; each actor morphs into a variety of characters by adding or removing a jacket or pair of glasses. They often act as props as well. One member of the ensemble extends her arm which Christopher pushes back causing her to pivot from the front to the side. She was meant to act as a door.
Another example of the ensemble literally carrying the production is in the space scene, where Christopher imagines himself as an astronaut. The ensemble carefully balances Christopher on their shoulders, gently rocking him up, down, left, right and bouncing him off the wall to appear as though he is floating in zero gravity.
During this scene, strobe lights meant to be stars twinkle directly into the audience’s eyes, causing them to squint. The outer space sounds went on for far too long and were far too loud. The box office should have instructed us to bring sunglasses and earplugs.
For the most part, the audience reacted similarly to the face Christopher drew to express his feelings: a furrowed brow, narrowed eyes, and flat smile. There were cautious chuckles every now and then but the audience is mostly silent. There are very long pauses of dialogue and certain points where it is so quiet in the theatre that you could hear a chair creak ten rows back. The silence is cut by someone whispering: “It’s enough already!”
People cover their ears and shut their eyes multiple times from the abrupt and intrusive lights and sounds. The couples in front and behind me left after intermission and did not return. I think the unorthodox production shocked their expectations.
This show is not for people looking for a relaxing evening at the theatre. If you are epileptic, this play is not for you. If you are a child or elderly person, this play is not for you. If you are sensitive to loud noises and bright lights, this play is not for you, and if you find British accents hard to comprehend, this play is not for you either.
The point of the blinding strobe lights and screeching synth sounds is that they try to make the audience understand how people on the spectrum experience everyday sights and sounds amplified times one hundred. Most audience members are able to walk out of the theatre and lights and sounds are back to normal. Unlike the rest of us, people on the spectrum cant just say "Enough already!” and walk out.
Even with this in mind, they hammered it in too hard and it made the audience uncomfortable.
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time closes the circle and solves the mystery, leaving the audience with a newfound empathy for people on the spectrum…and with a headache too.
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is playing at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre from now until November 19.