Sunday, March 18, 2018

Review of National Theater's Touring Production of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME: Multi-sensory Marvel

March 18, 2018

In 2003, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" was a critically-acclaimed book written by British writer Mark Haddon. 10 years later, Simon Stephens adapted Haddon's story into a similarly critically-acclaimed play. Its 2013 West End run won 7 Olivier Awards. Its 2014 Broadway run won 5 Tony Awards. In both awards shows, it won Best Play, Director and Lead Actor, as well as Lighting and Set Designs. 

I had read the book and liked it, so I was very curious about how it could be transformed into a play. The opportunity to go watch the play came late last year when it was announced that the same production by the National Theater of Great Britain was going to be staged as part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival. Knowing the popularity of the play, I immediately booked a ticket to go watch and planned a day trip to HK for that sole purpose. That day finally came last Sunday, March 11. 

Christopher Boone is a 15-year old boy, a mathematics whiz kid with autism-like behavior, who lived in a suburban town of Swindon. One night, he sees Wellington, the dog of his neighbor Mrs. Shears, killed with a garden fork. Despite the admonitions of his father Ed, Christopher went around the neighborhood to investigate who could have done the crime. Instead, Christopher discovers hidden truths about his very family, which would lead him to a harrowing solo train trip to London on a personal quest for love and safety. 

The set by Bunny Christie was seemingly just a simple black box open on the top and in front. The walls were checked with white lines. There was a dead "dog" lying at the center of the floor. Without warning, the play began suddenly with a burst of loud music and all the lines on the black box burst into strobe lights. This frenetic yet affecting musical score (by Adrian Sutton) and bright multicolored moving lights (by Paule Constable) and video images (by Finn Ross) would be enhancing the dramatic situations experienced by Christopher and his parents throughout the duration of this play. This play was as much about technical precision as it was about the actors' performances. There were Chinese surtitles being flashed on both sides of the stage. 

The main lead star playing Christopher is Joshua Jenkins, the actor seen in all the publicity posters and photos, who had also led the touring cast in the UK before this. However, on the day I watched, the matinee show of March 11, 2018, the role of Christopher was played by the alternate actor Sam Newton, only in his professional theater debut with this play. I don't have any reference for comparison, so I thought Newton nailed the challenging role pretty well. The role was not only emotionally difficult, but also very physically demanding.

Christopher's patient teacher Siobhan was played by Julie Hale. At first, it felt awkward that Christopher's thoughts were being narrated by a female character, but later you get the drift that she was reading Christopher's journal in a play within the play. (In the novel was narrated in the first-person perspective as a book by Christopher within a book). His father Ed and mother Judy were played by David Michaels and Emma Beattie respectively. Both roles were so emotionally devastating to play, and both actors earn our admiration for their heartfelt and painful performances. 

The rest of the ensemble have to recreate the overwhelming world around our fragile hero Christopher -- his neighborhood, the station, the train, the subway. Here is where the direction (by Marianne Elliot) and the choreography (Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for the Frantic Assembly) shone so brilliantly, as accompanied in precise timing by the driving music and glittering lights. We in the audience definitely feel how someone with a special psyche like Christopher could be turned inside out and panicked by all the varied nonstop visual and aural onslaught of stimuli around him in these busy places. 

All in all, it was a 2 hours 40 minute-long play (with one 20 minute interval) well worth the expense and time of the overseas day trip it took for me to go watch it. It was well-deserving of critical acclaim and all the awards it had won for play, direction, lighting and set design. We were brought inside the brain of a teenage autistic-like math savant. The mathematical equations may just fly over our heads, but his confused mind and fractured heart definitely stirred my sympathy and emotions. 


This play was staged at the Lyric Theater of the Hong Kong Academy of the Performing Arts from March 8 to 18, 2018. Showtime is 7:30 pm, with 2:30 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices: Standard: $580 / $440 / $300 / $180; Local Full-Time Student with valid I.D. (limited quota): $290 / $220 / $150 / $90; Disabled with valid I.D. (limited quota): $290 / $220 / $150 / $90; Wheelchair: $150.

This touring production is going around Asia and Australia now. After Hong Kong, it goes to Singapore (March 29 to April 8 at the Esplanade Theater with tickets from $48, $68, $88, $108, $128, and $138). then China (starting May 9, 2018 in Shanghai, then going to Beijing, and finally Guangzhou up to June 3, 2018) then Australia (starting June 12, 2018 in Brisbane, then going to Canberra, Sydney, Adelaide and concluding in Perth by August 19, 2018). Click on this LINK for more ticket details. 


Personal Backstory: 

I booked the ticket online on the first day of its release November 1, 2017, knowing the popular demand for this show. They sent the ticket and receipt by mail, without any shipping charge that I knew of. I booked the airline tickets once upon receipt of the ticket by December 1, 2017. 

On March 11, 2018 itself, I left Manila past 7 am, reached Hong Kong past 9 am already. At the airport I bought a ticket for Bus A12. Alone a ticket costs HK$45, but if you buy the return trip together via Bus A11, you only pay HK$65. The HK Academy of Performing Arts is the 6th stop along the route of A12. 

The play ended at around 5 pm or so. There was enough time to cross Gloucester St. via footbridge and look for the A11 bus stop on the other side. The route back to the airport passes through the plaza where the Filipino domestic helpers spend their Sunday off en masse, so you can see how many they truly are there. The bus reached the airport Terminal 1 just in time to check in for the 9 pm flight back home.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Fred, to maximize my day trip to HK, I buy a same day return on the airport train. Then I use the free shuttle from the station so I can go around Central a bit.