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Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at Liverpool Empire ****1/2

It’s 10 years now since the National Theatre premiered its ingenious sensory staging of Mark Haddon’s remarkable The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

But Simon Stephens’ adaptation, realised through designer Bunny Christie’s singular cube-structured set, remains as magical as ever.

The graph-lined cube, a manifestation of one teenager’s view of his world, sits in the middle of the Empire’s wide sweep of stage (meaning audiences on the periphery of the stalls might struggle to see every bit of the action).

Inside it unfolds the story told through the eyes of Christopher Boone (David Breeds), a neurodivergent 15-year-old.

Christopher’s viewpoint is as ordered, straightforward and – sometimes brutally - truthful as the maths and science he excels at where there are right answers, wrong answers and clear facts to learn and state.

Outside this cube of certainty is a world he finds confusing, where reading people’s facial expressions, understanding metaphors (he equates them with lying), coping with strangers or strange situations and attempts at physical touch can lead to a maelstrom of emotions amplified here through strobing lights and an intrusive cacophony of frantic sound.

Above: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Top: David Breeds as Christopher. Photos by Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

The dog of the title is Wellington, his neighbour’s pet whose dead body Christopher happens upon late one night, an incident which sets in motion a train of events which take the teenager far outside his carefully constructed comfort zone, and his cul-de-sac.

I described it as ‘sensory staging’ and what makes Curious Incident so remarkable as a piece of theatre is its wider sensory storytelling, from the integral lighting, video, sound and music to the physicality of the performance – created under the tutelage of physical theatre experts Frantic Assembly.

It’s visually striking, particularly when Christopher is transported up into the starry skies he admires from the ground.

Breeds gives a compelling and compassionate performance as Christopher, carrying you along on his brave journey into the unknown.

And Rebecca Root is an excellent foil as his encouraging teacher Siobhan, the calming anchor in what turn out to be some stormy seas.


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