In 2003 Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time hit bookshops. Telling the mystery story of the extraordinary Christopher, brilliant at maths but with a difficulty in the day-to-day, it gripped the public’s imagination. Some years down the line, Haddon approached Simon Stephens to adapt the novel for the stage, bringing to life Christopher’s world.
The show went on to become a massive success in the West End and on Broadway. With seven Olivier Awards and, recently announced, six Tony Award nominations (with the winners announced in June), the production now makes it way to Canterbury on a UK tour.
We found out how the novel was adapted, with writer Simon Stephens.
What inspired you to adapt The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time for the stage?
Mark Haddon asked me to write it for him. I was immensely flattered. I loved the book for years and was inspired by it in earlier plays before I’d even met him. I was daunted by the book’s celebrity and fascinated by the challenge of how one dramatises a novel. I very much wanted to find out what Christopher’s parents looked like and thought a good way of doing that would be to dramatise them.
Mark once described his novel as un-stageable. So, how did you go about the adaptation process?
The innate dramatic charge of his dialogue means his work is eminently stageable. I spent some time trying to separate the narrative from the prose of the book. I worked through it listing all the events that happened in the story. I then spent some time transcribing the direct speech. I had the hunch that in the direct speech there would be clues as to the book’s dramatic heart.
It was through this that I came up with the idea of using Siobhan as a narrator. She is one of only three people who read Christopher’s book in the novel and her view point is so much like the novel’s readers. I also think that the idea of a favourite teacher is one many people can relate to. She’s a peripheral character in the novel but central to the play.
What do you think the story is about and why does it appeal to readers and theatre-goers?
I think it’s a story about family. I think it’s about what it’s like to raise a child or be raised; to parent or have parents. I think it’s a celebration of the capacity for bravery in the most unlikely of environments. Stories of bravery resonate. Stories of families resonate.
How much did you and Mark collaborate on the stage adaptation?
Hardly at all! He told me I could do what I wanted. He was supportive and I also kept a beautiful distance. He read early drafts and was very encouraging.
Can you tell us something about the staging and why you think Marianne Elliott was the right choice to direct the play.
Marianne has an innate sense of democracy. She combines a fearlessly and ferociously theatrical imagination with a real concern for her audience. She and designer Bunny Christie and the rest of the artistic team committed completely to trying to get into Christopher’s head and dramatise his world from within. That’s what watching the play feels like. It feels like you’re in Christopher’s brain.
How involved were you with the creative process?
I was at a fair few rehearsals – mainly to offer occasional re-writes and a very few insights into the progression. But Marianne and her team were so robust that they didn’t need me too much. I mainly turned up late and tried to make everybody a cup of tea!
How do you feel about the show touring around the UK and Ireland? Are you excited about the fact that the show is opening at the Lowry in Salford?
The whole notion of the tour seems to resonate beautifully with Christopher and his sense of adventure and bravery in the novel. The book is a road story and we’re hitting the road. That it might start at the Lowry in Salford, so near where I was born and raised means the world. I’m taking sixteen members of my family, including my 94-year-old Grandma to opening night. In fact the show is starting at the Lowry so she can see it!
How did you feel about the success of the show – from the Cottesloe – the National Theatre’s smallest space, to the West End, and on to Broadway..
Well I‘m proud of it. And proud that we never compromised anything to have it succeed. We never tried to succeed with the play: we just tried to tell the story as well as we could. I think that bravery and sense of experiment comes through in the performance and the idea that bravery like that appeals to people is inspiring.
What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I’ve four new plays opening this year. Carmen Disruption at the Almeida in London; Song from Farway by Toneelgroep Amsterdam opens in Sao Paulo; a play called Heisenberg opens in New York and then a version of Ödön von Horváth’s Karsimir and Karoline, that I’ve called The Funfair will open the new Home Theatre in Manchester.
I understand you were a teacher. How did that inform your writing and how did you make the leap from teaching to become a playwright?
I think both writing and teaching operate from the same optimism. The writer and the teacher work from the assumption that they can make the world better and they can change people. I loved teaching and the kids I taught continue to live with me in my imagination and inspire my work.
I never stopped writing while I was teaching and after a while (in January 2000) Ian Rickson at the Royal Court Theare read my plays and asked me to be their Resident Dramatist. I still see some of the teachers I worked with and occasionally some of the kids I taught.
Who was your favourite teacher and how have they influenced your life?
A teacher called James Siddely taught me A Level General Studies. He was the first person I ever told that I wanted to be a writer and he encouraged me without reservation. Late in his life he came to see several of my plays in Manchester and we would have lunch. That was very special. He remains an inspiring presence in my work.
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time comes to Canterbury’s The Marlowe Theatre from Tuesday 12 – Saturday 23 May.