The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
A frightening journey...
Simon Stephens’ play adaptation of Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time received seven Olivier Awards in 2013.
Christopher, fifteen years old, stands beside Mrs Shears’ dead dog. It has been speared with a garden fork, it is seven minutes after midnight and Christopher is under suspicion. He records each fact in a book he is writing to solve the mystery of who murdered Wellington.
He has an extraordinary brain, and is exceptional at maths while ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. He has never ventured alone beyond the end of his road, he detests being touched and distrusts strangers. But his detective work, forbidden by his father, takes him on a frightening journey that upturns his world.
OX talked to cast member Edward Grace about his interpretation of the story and his experiences so far.
First of all, what has the reception been like for the play?
It’s been fantastic. It’s great to be part of a show where audiences across the country have responded so warmly to us. We’ve been in about 15 venues so far and we’re getting lovely audiences and great reactions. We’ve received lovely letters from people who have been to see the show and have been moved to write to us as a company, so we’re all really grateful it’s been received so warmly.
Obviously The Curious Incident isn’t a conventional play in any sense. How does it differ from your previous experiences and what challenges did you face in creating your character?
The most difficult thing for me personally has been the physical aspect of the production. There’s a lot of movement, which has been put in place by Frantic Assembly, who are a fantastic company who specialise in physical theatre. We had a long rehearsal process and half of that was given to the physical side of the show, led mainly by Scott Graham who is one of the artistic directors. That’s been a real challenge for me and large numbers of the cast, because not many of us have done this level of physical theatre before. We’ve got a lot fitter as the show’s gone on, certainly!
The other thing for me personally is that I play a number of characters in the play and I’m often asked to switch between them very quickly, and we have short scenes which start and stop very abruptly. It’s less about taking the time to really sink into a character and more about just ‘snapping’ into character. That’s been a real challenge personally but it’s also great fun to do.
For people like myself who’ve read the book but haven’t had the opportunity to see the play, what can we expect in terms of how it differs from the book?
That’s a tricky one. One thing I found when reading the book was that it’s very easy to put yourself into the head of Christopher, and Mark Haddon does a wonderful job of leaving enough space in the book that you can really place yourself at the centre of the story. I think that one of the wonderful things about this production, with the fantastic team behind it, is how that feeling has been adapted for a theatre audience. There is an actor on stage portraying the main character, so not only is the audience led to empathize very strongly with the character on stage, but they also do a great job of bringing the audience into his world using all the tricks that the theatre can offer. For people who don’t know what to expect, it’s best not to spoil surprises but it’s a real treat to be able to enter someone’s world so completely, and I think that’s a real strength of this production in particular.
From the perspective of the actors, is it difficult to translate a story which is told from the point of view of someone who is unable to express empathy into something which audiences can connect with?
I think it’s something which is a problem, and it’s a problem which meant that some people thought that the book was unadaptable to the theatre. I think it’s a real testament to the team behind this. All of the design team involved do such a good job of that, and we as performers get to bask in the reflected glory of all the hard work that other people have done! We know it works because of the immediate response we get every time we perform.
Moving away from the play a little and onto yourself, am I right in thinking you grew up in Oxford?
Yeah, but I was very young. I was about 4 or 5 years old when we left Oxford, but my family grew up here. My father has been an academic all of his life, and was a fellow at Exeter College. He studied at Balliol and we lived nearby in Kidlington. I can’t wait to have a proper explore of the town now that I’m all grown up, because I have very few and very sketchy memories of being a young child in Oxford. I’m really looking forward to seeing the town where my father worked and where my family grew up.
So where is it that you grew as an actor?
I would say mainly in London. My family moved from Oxford to Cambridge and I grew up largely in Cambridgeshire. I started acting in Cambridge, doing amateur dramatics there, but then I went to Central School of Speech and Drama in London to train as an actor when I was about 23. Ever since then I’ve either been training or working in London, or touring when the opportunity arises. Jobs like this are fantastic because getting to visit and work in different parts of the country is always a real treat.
Aside from Curious Incident, what have you got planned for the future?
It’s a little too soon to say, unfortunately. It’s always a little last minute in the acting world as to what the next job will be, and at the moment we’re scheduled to be performing Curious until the end of November. We’re about halfway through, so I’m not really looking beyond the end of the tour just yet.
When you do tours that last months, like this one, is it difficult to keep the coherence of the play or does it come naturally?
It can be a challenge, definitely. When you do have to do essentially the same thing on stage 8 times a week, one of the challenges of the job is to find ways to keep it fresh for yourself whilst keeping the cohesion of the company and making sure we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet and pulling together towards the same goal on stage every night. I think people approach that in different ways, but so far we’ve been really lucky. We’ve got a wonderful company of actors and a fantastic backstage crew. We’re all very happy in each other’s company, and the reaction that the play gets is so overwhelmingly positive. I hesitate to use the word ‘important’ to describe the play, but we feel it’s a very worthwhile play that we’re very proud of. That makes it much easier to go out on stage night after night and really put your heart in it.
Edward Grace’s credits include: Enduring Song (Southwark Playhouse), Blue/Orange and The Importance of Being Earnest for Contexture Theatre, Our Boys (Duchess Theatre) and Dirty Money on film.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time comes to the New Theatre, Oxford, from 14-18 July.
Tickets can be purchased from the New Theatre box office on George Street, by ringing 0844 871 3020 or by visiting our website at www.atgtickets.com/oxford (phone and internet bookings subject to booking/transaction fee).
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