// Hannah Alberga
Seeing the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time production is to risk sensory and emotional overload.
This extraordinary alliance is based on the marriage of thrilling audio and visual elements that evoke raw emotions.
The Mirvish production begins with a deafening shriek as protagonist Christopher Boone (Joshua Jenkins) nestles a dog stabbed with a pitchfork. The audience is practically thrust backwards and urged to plug their eardrums to protect them from the thunderous sound waves escaping the stage.
This five-time Tony Award and seven-time Oliver Award winning production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is based on Mark Haddon’s 2003 bestselling mystery novel.
Christopher, a mathematically brilliant fifteen-year-old boy who shows signs of Asperger’s and autism, is determined to solve the mystery of who killed his neighbour’s dog.
The production is minimalistic and primarily uses lights and projections to create imagined environments. The stage’s walls are made up of small transparent cubes aligned in a grid. The backdrop acts as a projection of Christopher’s mathematically driven mind and gives the audience insight into his thoughts.
At one point, a diagram of constellations is projected and Christopher is launching into the air, imaginatively achieving his dream of becoming an astronaut. At first Christopher’s high attaining hopes seem dreamlike, but as the play progresses and Christopher overcomes some of his greatest fears – touching people, the colour yellow, and travelling alone – the audience learns to appreciate his determination to achieve his dreams and roots him on as he inches closer.
The play has a powerful advantage over the book in its ability to visually display Christopher’s thoughts. When he explains a complex math problem, a diagram of Pythagoras’s theorem is projected. For those of you, like myself, who ditched math in high school, this was incredibly helpful.
While reading the novel, it is tempting to skip over the chapters with math problems, since they seem irrelevant to the plot. But seeing Christopher in the play, animated and enthused about Pythagoras’s theorem, makes his appreciation for math tremendously meaningful. By the end of the production, there is an understanding of Christopher’s view of the world – math is reliable and logical, whereas metaphors and sarcasm are entangled in connotation and contradiction.
Comic relief is entrenched in almost every scene of the play, although it often highlights Christopher’s absence of social and behavioral awareness. When Christopher’s father (David Michaels) is in a heated argument, he exclaims, “Christopher has a great deal to deal with without you shitting on him.” Christopher quickly shimmies his hood over his head to avoid the inevitable shit his father is referring to. These scenes are conflicting for an audience member tempted to laugh, while feeling an ache of sympathy for Christopher.
At moments in the play, you might find yourself fighting the impulse to run up on stage, hold Christopher, stroke his head, and tell him everything will be alright . In other scenes, it might take all of your will power to avert from demanding the audience to stop cruelly howling. These revealing emotions are essential in understanding the all-consuming flurry of feelings that you experience with a person with behavioral challenges.
Despite the fact that the show’s blinding light beams are an epileptic’s nightmare, they served an important purpose. When Christopher suffered through an overwhelming situation, the audience suffered along with him through thunderous audio clips and alarming projections. If he was shrieking, cradling his knees, and wetting his pants – the audience was simultaneously stunned by strobe lights and the blaring sound of a radio searching through static.
In the second half of the play, Christopher is on a mission to travel from Swindon to London. The audience experiences Christopher’s sensory overload as he ventures outside of his tiny comfort zone.
“I see everything, all the time,” Christopher explains. The audience is thrust into Christopher’s perspective. “No Smoking” and “Mind your Step” signs that are normally part of the subway’s scenery are projected onto a screen, moving at high speed, in different directions. Eventually the words become indistinguishable, detached, meaningless letters.
Viewing an environment through Christopher’s eyes is vital in understanding the magnitude of sensory overload he experiences in ordinary places. Despite my comfort on public transit, the scene is completely disorienting, anxiety provoking, and left me sucking in short breaths of air. The dull lenses we see the world through, that blur over these environments, are shockingly peeled off.
Surprisingly, instead of turning away from the stage, or covering their ears and eyes, the audience was mesmerized by the fast-paced projections and maximum engagement of their senses. Perhaps, by the end of the play, they were used to the aggressive visual and audio arrangements.
Even though your ears may ring after the show, the risk of sensory overload is an integral part of the adventure in crossing the rickety bridge that leads you to a truly impactful emotional upheaval.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is currently playing at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre until Nov. 19. The show will continue on to Amsterdam and Melbourne. For Toronto tickets call 416-872-1212 or visit https://www.mirvish.com/shows/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time