Tale of an curious incident of a dog told on Shanghai stage

The UK's National Theatre is staging a compelling performance about Christopher, a 15-year-old autistic boy.
Ti Gong

Christopher, a 15-year-old autistic boy, is good at maths.

A huge black box with each side decorated by LED dots and lines was recently set on the stage of SAIC Shanghai Culture Square.

Within the box is a curious incident be told from the perspective of a teenager with autism, as the National Theatre from the UK is staging “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” through May 20.

The production, which has won seven Oliviers and five Tonys, is based on Mark Haddon’s bestseller of the same name. It tells of 15-year-old autistic boy Christopher’s experiences after he discovers his neighbor’s dog killed. Tensions, conflicts and reconciliation within his family unfold in the process.

According to Kim Pearce, resident director of the production, because the original novel focuses on the objective perspective of Christopher and his world, Haddon refused many approaches to bring it onto the stage until he met playwright Simon Stephen, whom he believed was capable of retaining the color of the novel.

“Stephen did not want to present the story as a simple happy-ending one about a boy overcoming all difficulties,” says Pearce. “There were also some dark parts in it, which he insisted be displayed as well, in detail.”

To keep the original “color” of the novel, Stephen made two documents for his adaptation.

He listed all the incidents of the story in one document and all the dialogues in the other. In fact, as many of the dialogues were description of the incident, many lines in the novel were directly applied to the script, which helped maintain the basic color.

The perspective of Christopher plays a crucial role in the performance. The whole stage was designed as a world full of dots and lines as Christopher was gifted in maths.

There are times when the whole stage blacks out to display exactly what happened to Christopher when he is overwhelmed by information.

And Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher and friend, always shows up on stage, talking to him when he’s stressed, which actually happens only in Christopher’s mind.

The impressive high-tech stage design is a highlight of the performance, according to Fei Yuanhong, deputy general manager of the Shanghai Culture Square.

More than 800 changeable LED dots make up the world of Christopher’s mind, including his real space in life, imaginative space in the universe, information fragments he collected, his confusion and emotion.

All the scene changes are managed by the changing of lights and projections. And all the properties needed are hid in secret cupboards behind the walls.

Christopher is on stage from the beginning to the end, which makes it a demanding role for actor Joshua Jenkins.

“The challenge is that I have to shift my status from one scene to another in no time, especially with the upset time sequence of the story. But it also helps me keep concentrated and follow my heart along with the story. It is much like riding a roller-coaster,” says Jenkins.

Although the stage play is presented in English, director Pearce was surprised by warm feedback from the audience at the first performance in Shanghai on Wednesday.

“Good translation in the subtitles may have helped a lot,” Pearce says. “Some of the English metaphors in the play were replaced by Chinese slang with similar meanings, which resonates with the audience better.

“We will work more on that to make the right messages delivered.”

Performance details

Date: Through May 20, 2:30pm, 7:30pm
ickets: 80-880 yuan
Tel: 6472-6000
Venue: SAIC Shanghai Culture Square
Address: 597 Fuxing Rd M.

Ti Gong
Ti Gong
Ti Gong
Ti Gong
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