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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Theatre review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is greater than the sum of its parts

Fresh take on the family drama opens the Arts Club Theatre Company’s 55th season

With individual elements coming together in beautiful harmony inside The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, the Art’s Club Theatre Company’s season opener provides a fresh and uniquely theatrical spin on the ubiquitous family drama.

Based on the bestselling novel by Mark Haddon, on its surface The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is like any other family drama. But wrapped inside what feels like a children’s mystery book, told from a unique perspective, and combined with some superb performances and technical magic, it feels now; it feels current.

The Curious Incident is the story of 15-year old (15 years, 3 months and 2 days to be exact) Christopher, who discovers his neighbour’s dog has been killed with a pitchfork. Determined to find the dog’s killer, Christopher’s quest begins to unravel some big family secrets. Living on what we assume is the autism spectrum (it is never clearly stated in both book or play), Christopher chronicles his adventures in a book he is writing, which will eventually become the basis for a (this) play.

Jumping between real-life, Christopher’s view, book, and play, it is inside this meta-world of The Curious Incident, which keeps things interesting. In constant flux, with the fourth wall broken and reassembled at any given moment, it may sound confused. Under Ashlie Corcoran’s direction and Simon Stephens’ clear stage adaptation though it is all seamlessly woven together.

It is this combination of worlds which makes The Curious Incident so compelling. In 2009, Haddon described his book as “about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way”. This is what is translated so perfectly to the stage in this production.

Daniel Doheny as Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Photo by David Cooper.
Daniel Doheny as Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Photo by David Cooper.

Helping to bring this all to life is a talented and committed cast, beginning with Daniel Doheny in the role of Christopher. No doubt helped immensely by Jake Anthony, the show’s cultural creative consultant, Doheny’s immersion into the foreign world of his character is ultimately believable.

Todd Thomson brings the emotional punch to this production as Christopher’s father, no easy feat in a show that can easily be overshadowed by its theatrics. His revelation towards the end of act one is as devastating as it is tragic.

Arriving late to the family drama is Jennifer Copping as Christopher’s mother, providing a fine emotional balance between her choices and familial connection.

Helping to bring it all together is an ensemble who are not only called upon to play the other characters who pass through Christopher’s worlds, but are also adept at the physical theatre that punctuates scenes, and in the often-joyous segments from movement director Kayla Dunbar. And even while there are a few difficulties with accents and lost dialogue to the upstage, they are seemingly fearless.

While a uniformly solid ensemble, special mention must go to Anita Wittenberg as Mrs Alexander, and Ghazal Azarbad as Siobphan, Christopher’s teaching assistant and the play’s de facto narrator.

The technical aspects of The Curious Incident are just as exciting as the actors on stage. Getting their workouts are lighting designer Itai Erdal, video designers Joel Grinke & Jimmz Zhang, and sound designer Patrick Pennefather who all work together to help us straddle the various worlds in which the play resides. It all unites against Drew Facey’s spare, but clever set. This production may also be the first to enlist the necessary services of a math consultant.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time marks the beginning of a new chapter at the Arts Club as the first show programmed and directed by its incoming artistic director Ashlie Corcoran. It is an auspicious and exciting debut.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Simon Stephens. Adapted from the novel by Mark Haddon. Directed by Ashlie Corcoran. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. On stage at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage (2750 Granville St, Vancouver) until October 7. Visit for tickets and information.

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