Curious On Stage is a breath-taking, funny performance by a talented and eclectic cast, with a purpose-built sentient stage design. A magnificent portrayal that I could happily watch over and over.
Please note that if you have not seen the play and do not wish for elements to be spoilt I would advise not reading any further.
Where to begin with this play. It is the first play I’ve been to see at the London West End and I’m so glad I chose to see this first. I love Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It is a book that I return to often and have studied a couple of times too. I’m going to go through my reaction in sections to fully iterate how brilliant this play was.
Joseph Ayre could not have been better cast for this part. He’s taken on the role of Christopher Boone and truly brought him to life. Down to the smallest of movements, his reactions and personality are charismatic, but true to the essence of Christopher. Arguably elements of his characterisation have been exaggerated for the performance, as part of the comedy factor. Ayre’s ability to re-enact accents or employ what is seen as sarcasm usually, but is in fact Christopher’s literal mind at work, is very detailed. The meta-theatrical improvisation added another level as well. At one point he interjects and informs his mother and Mr Shears that they’ve performed a part wrong – corrects them – and the element is re-performed. The element of Christopher as both director and actor, while being played by Ayre has an almost Shakespearian resemblance to it.
The employment of Siobhan as a pseudo-narrator provides the play with a very clever way of adding Christopher’s interludes. The chapters in the book that explain his mind and why he does and perceives things in a particular way. Siobhan’s part in the play is much larger than in the book. However, this works in a much better way for the play medium. Jo Castleton is an integral part of the first act particularly and provides the buffer between scenes as a kind of omnipresent entity.
Rest of the Cast
Ed Boone was cast exactly as I imagined him. His actor provided a firm but fair attitude to the role.
Judy Boone was integrated intelligently through the use of the letters and memories of Christopher’s. Her performance was mesmerising and reinforced the character of the book.
I love love loved Jacqueline Clarke’s portrayal of Mrs Alexander. It was simply perfect.
As an entire cast the intimacy and awareness of each other was evident. The synchronised movements where visually aesthetic and give the show a dynamism.
I could gush about this stage all night. Imagine the inside of a rubix cube if it were 64 x 64 squares. Now imagine that the cubes form a dot grid. Each dot lights up and there’s a bunch of neon cubes lined around the bottom corners. That’s the stage the Gielgud have custom created to portray this narrative.
The stage can be drawn on in chalk has hidey holes for pieces of train tracks and other elements. The back panel moves forward can also be used as a ladder and stair case. Not to mention that the entire stage also has imagery emitted throughout. Numbers and faces to match Christopher’s interactions with others. Finally, the entire front of the stage also drops down to reveal an empty tube platform imitation.
I was truly taken back by the diversity of the staging and the way that each element was made use of.
Comparison to the book
Naturally a change of medium means that some elements do get cut and changed slightly but overall the play tries it’s hardest to be true to the book. They include as many elements as they possibly can, cropping between scenes in a way that offers a fast-paced narrative while still maintaining the nuances of Christopher.
I was particularly pleased with the way the play incorporated the letters. By having Christopher’s mother read them, it allowed for a significantly more immersive representation of how Christoper felt while reading them. We saw his reactions, his panic and, by including the train set, how he coped with all the new information. The train set was a beautiful symbol of him moving towards his mother and giving up trusting his father.
My final worry, before going into the play, was how the script overall would reflect the book. I have to say that Simon Stephens’ adaptation did not disappoint. It was as true to the book and I felt it could have been and set my weary book-loving heart at ease right from the off.
This is a play that I would happily pay to watch a second, third and fourth time over, while still wanting to go back for me. Curious on Stage is a credit to all the cast and creatives involved this play is phenomenal and a brilliant start to what will hopefully become a personal love of theatre and the west end.