We speak to Marianne Elliott, the director of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, about the process of bringing the novel to the screen.
Were you a fan of Mark Haddon’s book before you started working on The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time?
Yes I was a real fan of the book. I read it when it first came out and absolutely loved it. I never thought in a million years that it would be adapted for the stage. In fact I thought it was a book you couldn’t really adapt.
How did you feel when you got the script from Simon Stephens?
Simon asked me to read a script that he’d spent some time on as a favour. I realised it was an adaptation of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. I had absolutely no expectation and thought it’s really impossible to adapt. I had no idea that he was asking me to direct it, although he’s just told me recently that it was his secret plan. It was quite good actually because I read it with an open mind. I wasn’t worried about how I was going to stage it or thinking ‘is this ever going to work?’ You often read scripts you think you’re going to direct and think what on earth is going to happen? I saw it as a film at first. I read it a couple of times and I knew I loved it. I thought it was very visceral and incredibly emotional. I had no idea how you’d do it, absolutely none. At that time there wasn’t much help in the stage directions for things like Christopher’s journey London. I just thought it’s an amazing story and he’s found a way to make it work, with lots of voices rather than just Christopher.
How did you come up with the idea that the whole stage was Christopher’s mind?
That was a long, long process. For a long time, we were going along the route of it being a play within a play and if it was that, who are the performers? Are they his teachers? Are they his school friends? If they’re his teachers – where are they doing the play? Then we thought it could be in a school hall. So the play was going to be set in a school hall for a really long time. Eventually through lots of conversations, lots of meetings and lots of playing with the model box Bunny said she thought it should be more magical than that. I was really keen that it shouldn’t be too high tech; that it wasn’t some great big illusion; that it had to look like it was all created by people on stage – humans making the story. But between us we eventually came to a happy place that it should be his brain and that it should be a box, and that in the box there are lots of magic tricks. But the magic tricks aren’t down to incredible moving digital scenery, it’s to do with seeing how the humans create the magic.
Do you think the role of Christopher is a challenging one to play for the actor?
It’s a really, really difficult role and difficult to cast actually because he has to be young but, inevitably, young usually means inexperienced and the actor has to be on stage the whole time. He has to drive every scene and he’s always the focal point. There are a lot of words to say and on top of that he has to understand what it is to be this kid. He has to understand what it is to feel emotions and to feel them very intensely but not be able to identify or channel or articulate them. He’s got to be highly traumatised on the journey to London and he’s got to be quite obstreperous as a character but yet you’ve got to like him. He’s got to be really very adept physically. High demands on all levels and therefore a very difficult part to play.
That’s why there are two Christophers – it’s too physically demanding to do eight shows a week because it is such an incredibly demanding role.
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time has received many awards and plaudits, and has played to hundreds of thousands of people world-wide. What do you think it is about the play that resonates with audiences?
Lots of people relate to having a really inspirational teacher who, amongst the midst of disappointment that every other adult gives you, can see potential in a child. Also, it’s about parenting and about families – parents who are flawed but desperately trying to do their best. They’re really trying to put Christopher first in everything, they just get it wrong. It’s also about Christopher – he’s highly vulnerable and highly limited in some ways yet manages to triumph and succeed in a way that’s beyond even his dreams.
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time: Monday 6 to Saturday 11 March. Book here.