The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Theatre Royal, Bath

An on-fire performance of Simon Stephens’ adaptation of this absorbing, bittersweet and alluring story

Joshua Jenkins and Stuart Laing in The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time

Joshua Jenkins and Stuart Laing in The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time

The short run time of productions, money and the sheer wealth of theatre on offer, mean that I rarely see plays twice. Even different productions of classics have me thinking twice – do I need to see Henry V again? (maybe this time the English loose?). But Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, the Simon Stephens’ adaptation of Mark Haddon’s wonderful book, would stand up to countless viewings. I saw it for the first time at the poor crumbling Apollo a couple of years ago, before the show literally brought the roof down and again recently, this time with the touring company at the Theatre Royal, Bath.

The show dazzled as much the second time around. We all know Christopher Boone’s story, or we think we do. The tale of the 15-year-old’s mission to find out who killed Wellington, his next door neighbour Mrs Shears’, dog, has broken free of the confines of the page and taken on a cultural life of its own like Bridget Jones and Sherlock Holmes. We know Curious Incident is funny and that Christopher is charming, but his innocence tricks you into thinking that this is a fluffy tale of a young boy playing detective. But both times I’ve seen the production I have been taken aback by the sadness that seeps through it, the heartbreak of a family’s struggle to hold themselves together in a world that doesn’t like difference and where individuality is drowned out by the conventional.

That said it is still very funny, the juxtaposition of Christopher’s childlike voice with his super maths brain, his occasional pomposity and his sharp tongue throw-up some belly laugh comic moments. There is also some lovely interaction between Christopher and another neighbour the Swindon Town-supporting, trainer wearing Mrs Alexander whose west country accent, Steve Jobs style sneaks and affection for Christopher was visual amusing and emotionally touching.

Joshua Jenkins plays Christopher like he was born for the role, totally convincing despite being 12 years older than the character. It’s a demanding part and one that has to strike a balance between comedic, empathetic and sympathetic without being twee and patronising, but Jenkins managed the acting tightrope with no wobbles. He was supported by terrific cast. I particularly liked Siobhan played by Geraldine Alexander as Christopher’s kindly teacher and the production’s narrator. I also enjoyed Roberta Kerr as Mrs Alexander.

But challenging all the actors for our attentions is the fantastic set that as much a part of the storytelling as the script and the acting. Bunny Christie’s design is a visual aid to the inner workings of Christopher’s mathematically rich mind that is so smoothly integrated into the story that you also almost don’t notice its cleverness.

Curious Incident is joyous, funny, touching dramatic and gripping first, second – and, I’m willing to bet, even third – time around.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time | Touring until 21 November 2015

Gielgud Theatre, London | Until forever possibly 

Theatre review: Closer, Donmar Warehouse

Rufus Sewell and Nancy Carroll in Closer at the Donmar Warehouse

Rufus Sewell and Nancy Carroll in Closer at the Donmar Warehouse

First performed at the National Theatre in 1997, Closer was written in a time when popular culture was teeming with studies of overly-sexed, overly-stressed, overly-self-obsessed people and their relationships. This was an era of This Life and Queer as Folk, TV programmes where the world for the under 35s was both hugely fun and horribly messy and hurtful.

Marber’s tale of sex and love has survived the best part of two decades better than many of us, in fact, in a time when internet dating and Tinder seem to magnify the differences between what men and women want, Closer could be seen as even more pertinent. In 20 years, men and women are still doing badly timed dances around each other because ultimately neither gender knows what beat we’re dancing.

Closer is about love, sex and London – and not the shiny Michelin star laden capital of the 21st century, but the slightly bleary eyed city that saw out the millennium. Against this slightly grubby background is this weary, crude and poignantly funny tale of four people trying to reconcile the ultimate mundanity of love. The two female leads were transformed into glamorous Americans in Steven Soderbergh’s 2004 film, but they make far more sense as spiky British women more used to failure.

Marber’s story directed by David Leveaux’s on Bunny Christie’s stark set should be a depressing watch – essentially, it’s saying, heterosexual men and women may be deeply attracted to each other, but they are doomed to misunderstand each other. But the script is shot full of enough wit and Leveaux keeps any arm-flailing at bay for it to be an absorbing and intelligent watch.

The four-hander follows (deeply, or just normally?) two flawed couples over several years, all grasping for love that they can never quite seize. Daniel Woolf  (Oliver Chris) is at once a hopeless romantic and an utter rat in the way these two characteristics are often flipsides of each other. He meets Alice Ayres (Rachel Redford), a young, beautiful orphan, when he scraps her off the street after she’s knocked down by a taxi. Dan, an obituary writer who dreams of becoming a novelist, takes her to hospital where Alice chooses to fall in love with him because he cuts the crusts off his sandwiches. He’s bewitched by her youth and kookiness and despite having a girlfriend, believes her to be the one. Alice is briefly treated by Larry (Rufus Sewell), a dermatologist who, in one of the many coincidences the play hangs on, Dan will, a few years later, set up with Anna – who he is now in love with – via a very funny exchange in an internet chat room. Dan first met Anna when she was taking his picture for the sleeve of his forthcoming novel that he’s finally written it. As he is prone to, Dan has become infatuated with Anna and so begins a circle of obsession and attraction between the four characters.

The characters are pretty damning representation of the human race, but they are not cardboard cutout villains, their very human flaws don’t distract from the appeal and the brilliance of a script full of those moments that resonant so much that you want to punch the air and shout ‘Yes. This’.

Marber’s brutal dialogue requires some pretty robust acting and the cast largely handler the script with conviction. Nancy Carroll was captivating as Anna, whose brittle efficiency hides a vulnerability that Carroll’s expressive eyes give away and I loved Rufus Sewell as Larry, a nice comic cadence cutting through the self importance of the other characters.

The Donmar’s production of Closer was good enough that the play’s niggles (the idea that Anna wouldn’t run a mile from a strange man in an aquarium who calls her a “cum-hungry bitch” even if he did look like Rufus Sewell; the beauty of the two women being so central to the story; what do these people talk about when they’re not arguing or snogging?) didn’t grate. As the production comes to an end, it remains to be seen if Marber’s play can survive another 17 years will as much spirit.

Closer | Donmar Warehouse | Until 4 April 2015

by Suzanne Elliott