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Behind the Curtain - The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night time

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time can be considered one of 2003’s breakout novels. Written by Mark Haddon (author of The Red House) the story told the tale of Christopher Boone, a 15 year-old boy with some form of Asperger’s syndrome or autism (the book never species exactly what Christopher’s condition is) who finds his neighbour’s dog murdered with a pitchfork, and decides to reveal the culprit. Praised for the deft, subtle, nuanced and poignant way in which it chronicled the life and struggles of Christopher and his condition, the book is more than just a ‘murder mystery,’ rather a introspective and layered exploration of Christopher’s life and view of the world as well as relationships with family and friends. Thus, it seems hard to imagine how a stage production would be able to accurately and successfully adapt Haddon’s work for theatre.

Performed at the Teatro Marquina, The Curious Incident is a stage play adapted into Spanish (the original already having wild success as a production and becoming recipient of the Olivier and Tony awards) directed by Jose Luis Aranello. To begin with, I found the idea of watching the play in Spanish slightly daunting-the book is written by a British author and sometimes powerful moments become lost in translation-but to my pleasant surprise the production is extremely well adapted from English, sounding fluid and natural, as opposed to the often clunky, unpleasant translation seen in dubbed movies or television.  Yet it is not merely due to competent translation that the production of The Curious Incident stands out, with a small yet extremely talented cast (resorting to clever multi-roling) managing to bring Haddon’s novel to life, demonstrating an eclectic range of skills, including some genuinely funny comedic performances contrasted with powerful, moving ones, in particular Marcial Alvarez, who brings the conflicted, heart-broken father of Christopher to life stupendously, managing to convey both the rage and helplessness of a father struggling with his son’s condition. Mabel del Pozo similarly does an excellent job as Christopher’s mother, managing to make her sympathetic despite the questionable relationship between her and her husband. The other cast members acquit themselves equally well, adding substance to the performance as a whole (Eugenio Villota provides some much appreciated comic relief as an exasperated policeman) whilst never detracting from the main character’s themselves.

But special praise has to be given to Alex Villazan, who plays Christopher Boone himself and delivers one of the most phenomenal performances I myself have ever seen. Villazan expertly portrays the play’s protagonist, accurately and powerfully conveying his condition, whilst never appearing to be exaggerating or even mocking Boone’s condition. As an actor portraying a boy with autism without having the condition himself, Villazan’s performance is especially commendable, with the young actor combining masterful acting with physicality, gestures, tone and inflections all which render a nuanced and three-dimensional portrayal of a teenager afflicted with autism. Villazan’s portrayal of Christopher is nothing less than sheer brilliance, and stands out enormously from his fellow actors as without a doubt the breakout performance of the entire play.  And the set, stage, and sound design are just extraordinary. The set itself is one of the most sophisticated and ingenious I have ever come across, and the use of lighting, sound and imagery is flabbergasting. Projected imagery, diagrams, graphs, all manage to give the audience a remarkably clear and vivid insight into Christopher’s mind and outlook on the world, from his simple morning routine to one particularly striking scene on the London Underground which combines recorded sound and imagery to powerfully portray Christopher’s sensory overload. Similarly, the scene in which Christopher imagines himself in space is beautiful and moving in its use of technical elements, giving the audience the impression that they themselves are surrounded by the cosmos. The set itself is also minimalistic, without ever becoming cluttered with props or set pieces. Instead, banquettes are cleverly implemented, as are cast members themselves, who occasionally mime props or even pretend to be inanimate objects (an ATM, a tollbooth, etc) in an extremely imaginative use of Brechtian theatre. The use of a chorus (not the singing kind) also gives the audience an extraordinary insight into Christopher’s thoughts and emotions, as well as transforming the production into something more than juts mere theatre with its ingenious and imaginative ideas.

The Curious Incident is a play which wholeheartedly deserves the praise with which it has been showered. A masterful production with incredible work from each and every person involved, it shines as one of the most imaginative, powerful, absorbing and enjoyable performances available to watch, balancing big laughs with heart-breaking moments, and elevating the sweet, simple story of Christopher Boone to new heights, giving the audience an amazingly artistic and engaging insight into the mind of a boy with Asperger’s, as well as allowing the audience to experience a powerful new perspective on family conflicts.

Simply put, one of the best plays I have had the good fortune to see.

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