Christopher in London

Connor Curren as Christopher out of his narrowest of comfort zones as he travels alone to London. Pictures: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

The Curious Incident

 of the Dog in the Night-Time

Birmingham Hippodrome


Thirteen years on from its premiere, 13, incidentally, being a prime number, this National Theatre adaptation of Mark Haddon’s best seller is still a constant assault on the senses and the emotions while telling a very human story.

It created a new genre, let’s call it Techno Theatre, harnessing the power of computers and the innovations in sound and LED lighting to create an electronic, boolean world on stage, three walls and a floor of pixels and imagination populated by a cast telling the story of Christopher.

Christopher, played by Royal Birmingham Conservatoire graduate Connor Curren, lives in the autistic spectrum and the black box on stage is his world, a literal world where truth is both a virtue and a curse. Christopher cannot tell a lie, nor can he recognise the nuances of language, well known sayings or colloquialisms. Understanding how someone could be the apple of one’s eye, for example is beyond his comprehension, nonsensical gobbledygook. Words are always what they mean not what they might mean.

Christopher’s world is based on logic, maths is perhaps his real language, numbers and formulae being easier to understand and cope with than words and sentences. And it is that world we are thrust into, even the techno music is based upon prime numbers.

He likes astronomy, wants to be an astronaut, has a pet rat Toby, absorbs facts and information about myriad subjects like a sponge and intends to go to university in another town where he will have a flat with his own toilet and become a scientist with a first class degree.

Without preaching or explanation we see the world as Christopher sees it, crowded, full of strangers, confusing, paradoxical and, at times, uncaring as people react to things they don’t understand - things like coming across Christopher who is just looking for help in an alien world.

It all starts with the killing of Wellington, the dog belonging to neighbour Mrs Shears (Hannah Sinclair Robinson) and Christopher’s obsession with his new project, becoming a would-be detective and finding the killer.

It is a wonderful performance by Connor, with the gestures, the howls of despair and confusion, the shakes when things go wrong or understanding fails and the anguish and pain whenever he is touched. He takes us by the untouched hand into his world.

chistopher and Ed

Connor Curren as Christopher and Tom Peters as Ed as father and son gently touch

It is a world of illogical logic which puts immense pressure on those around him with father Ed, played by Tom Peters, taking much of the strain. We are all wired differently, the odd connection changed or a different switch here and there. It is what makes us individuals. But with Christopher . . . it is not just rewiring, it is a different circuit board entirely, he is running on a different programme.

Ed is dealing with a son he cannot touch, apart from a moving, slow motion gentle high five - but only when Christopher consents, It is a relationship where communication is difficult to say the least, frustration is a regular companion, and emotions are always stretched. He loves his son but struggles to find ways to show it with all the normal, conventional routes closed off.

We feel for father as well as son, and Ed has his own problems, namely with wife Judy played by Kate Kordel – and what an emotional tale there is to tell there in a second act which paints another painful picture as a lie told to mistakenly protect grows into a monster.

Christopher is probably at the root of their problems, the catalyst, but to be fair, neither blame him or cite him, their difficulties are personal and their son Christopher is not used as one of them. And, where does the "evil" Roger Shears (Ashley Gerlach) come in.

And there is humour amid the angst, Christopher bringing unintentional amusement with his purity of logic, then Rev Peters (David Monteith) tries and fails to explain to Christopher that heaven is in a different universe, and a headmistress, Mrs Gascoyne,  (Hannah Sinclair Robinson again) endlessly repeats what the narrator has just told us she said.

The Narrator being Siobhan, played by Rebecca Root, his mentor and paraprofessional at his school. She is the one constant, the moderating influence who helps Christopher. She is reading and talking to him about the book he is writing about Wellington and his other projects. She is the only other person allowed to see it. It is a book full of the tiniest detail, such as the colour of rubber gloves a neighbour was wearing. Christopher notices absolutely everything recording the fact in his mind, and his book,

And his book is what we see on stage. The Curious Incident is an adventure, a project in Christopher’s terms, a journey through a world most of us will never experience, but one some people and their families live in every day. We have anguish, we have frustration, but we also have gentle humour and a love from parents battling against the barriers life has thrown up.

There is emotion, and moments that are moving, even triumphal, with Christopher’s A* in maths garnering cheers and applause from an audience with a fair share of school parties - immersive theatre or what!

And the story is carried along with a hard working ensemble cast playing a whole world of characters from police and neighbours in Christopher’s home town of Swindon, to fellow train travellers to London, crowds on the tube . . . Christopher’s whole world in his black box.

But that is only part of the story. The adaptation by Simon Stephens condenses the book’s essentials into a gripping narrative while the technical aspects set benchmarks with design from Bunny Christie, lighting from Paule Constable, video from Fin Ross and music from Adrian Sutton, finely balanced by Ian Dickinson’s sound design.

The set and computer wizardry alone deserves a standing ovation. Five tons of steel in the set, 50 speakers in the auditorium, 13 more on set and nine in the floor, 2km of LEDs, 234 sound cues, 373 lighting cues, military grade wiring, 10.5 million pixels of projection from six projectors, 1,136,275 squares in the floor of the set and on and on. All creating their own spectacular role in the show.

Directed by Marianne Elliott the Curious Incident will run to 02-04-22. 

Roger Clarke


Incidentally, it is one of those theatrical ironies that on a night when rail services in the West Midlands were facing major disruption and cancellations, Christopher’s toy train failed to run.

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