Fabulously staged Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time comes to the Toronto stage
When you enter the Princess of Wales theatre for Mirvish’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, you’re essentially walking into a giant cube made up of grids and pinpoints of light. Everything is mathematically precise, with the entire world of the stage sectioned off into regimented squares and shapes. This is the world of Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old math genius who has what the book the play is based on describes as “behavioural difficulties.”
When Christopher (Joshua Jenkins) discovers that his neighbour’s dog has been stabbed to death with a garden fork, he sets out to solve the mystery of the dog’s murder. Hyper-observant but deeply uncomfortable with social interactions, the play spins this initial mystery into a larger coming-of-age story about a troubled family trying to connect with one another. In effect, the play alternates between sheer visual spectacle and more understated, but heartbreakingly honest scenes between characters as they struggle desperately to relate to one another.
The appeal of the first point is obvious: the staging is very frequently a visual feast, with the grid-design transforming from stars to subway maps to rainstorms, dissolving occasionally into a sheer sensory chaos of light. Christopher wanders through it all, at times very much at home, and at others completely overwhelmed by the onslaught.
The genius of the staging, which is a technological marvel to be sure, is that it simulates the regimented patterns of Christopher’s mind through dynamic visuals and clever staging. It forces you to take on the perspective of its main character, as he translates the language of the world around him into his own thought-patterns and processes, made manifest to the audience through projections and light-displays. It is a work that does not ask, but demands your empathy.
But if all this is the show’s dazzling outer skin, there still remains a very human heart beating underneath it. At its core, this is a show about the asymmetry of the world, and the sheer human struggle it can be to connect through everything bewildering, strange, and uninterpretable going on around us. All of this is powerfully acted by the cast at large.
First, tribute must obviously be paid to Joshua Jenkins’ Christopher, who carries a tremendous amount of emotional weight with a fluid energy, as commanding at what he knows (maths, stars, science) as he is vulnerable when he finds himself in unfamiliar territory (such as chatting or taking the subway). Jenkins’ Christopher is a fascinatingly complex character, frenetic and frank and frequently shaken apart, all while maintaining a fragile but ultimately powerful determination to follow through with his goals (which, lest I spoil, change over the course of the play). He’s hard to look away from.
David Michaels gives a particularly stunning performance as Christopher’s steadfast but frightened father. Michaels’ entire body is tense and restrained with competing uncertainty and love for his son; he channels multiple competing emotions every time he’s on stage. One quiet moment, where he merely watches his son as he talks about the rain, seemed to suggest years and years of desperate love and fear all tangled together with no words from him at all.
Meanwhile, Julie Hale as Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher, is a commanding narrator of Christopher’s inner thoughts and ostensive narrator (as she reads from a book she has asked him to write of his experiences). Her performance is engaging and beautifully compassionate.
And, while spoilers prevent me from saying more about her specific role, Emma Beattie also gives an earthy, authentic and complex performance.
All of this adds up to a startlingly empathetic play, one that is powerfully acted and visually stunning. The play, which originally premiered at the Royal National Theatre in London and later enjoyed a Broadway run, has won several awards, not least of which was the 2015 Tony Award for Best Play. Certainly, the long list of accolades do not ring false with this touring production.
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King Street West) through November 19, 2017.
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., and Saturday & Sunday at 2:00 p.m (with one additional Sunday 7:30 show on November 5th).
- Tickets range from $38.00 to $150.00
- Tickets are available by phone at 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333, in-person at the Princess of Wales Theatre box office or online at Mirvish.com
Julie Hale (Siobhan) and Joshua Jenkins (Christopher Boone). Photo: BrinkhoffMögenburg.