Arts and Entertainment

Employing the Senses: The Theatrical Adaptation of Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at Actor’s Theatre

Nettie_Farrisby Nettie Farris | How can a novel based largely on the thoughts of an autistic teenage boy be adapted to the stage? Actors Theatre of Louisville production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time answers this question.

The first image we see in this production (center stage) is a very large dog (apparently dead) with a very large pitchfork sticking out of it. This image is rather disconcerting in spite of the fact that I have indeed read this 2003 bestselling British novel by Mark Haddon. Though the novel tells me that the dog is a standard poodle and the fork is a “garden fork,” I think what I’m really seeing (in my head) is a miniature poodle and a dinner fork. That is . . . until I see the play.

The standard poodle is Wellington, and his murder propels the story. Who killed Wellington? Our protagonist, Christopher Boone, who is “15 years and 3 months and 3 days,” dislikes talking to strangers but loves Sherlock Holmes, channels his inner tenacity toward solving this mystery; however, in the process, he discovers that solving a mystery concerning humans is infinitely more complex than solving a math problem.

The play adaptation (written by Simon Stephens), without access to a 1st person narrator in the voice of Christopher Boone, employs the following device: Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher, who has access to his written account of the story in the form of a book, and also (conveniently) suggests he turn his book into a play, narrates for us sections of the novel.

Although the staging of the production is minimalist, it is accompanied by projections of images on 2 screens, largely of concrete objects, emphasizing Christopher’s obsessive focus on specific detail. In addition, we have sounds and lights and movement contrasting tranquil experiences with chaotic. We have little figures of a bridge, a Ferris wheel, a clock, and a train track, suggesting London.

We have British accents.

If we have done our homework, we have reviewed the Sensory Friendly Guide available at: https://actorstheatre.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Sensory-Friendly-Guide-CURIOUS-INCIDENT.pdf because some of us like to know what to expect.

We also have the performance of Alexander Stuart, who portrays Christopher and his mannerisms in a remarkably believable way—who can forget that scene when he and Toby are flying through the universe, and we can imagine we are in a planetarium, Carl Sagan narrating?

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We have our family and friends beside us and community as well, because theatre is a communal experience.

But most important, in this production, we experience a visceral, emotional response to Christopher Boone’s relationship to his parents and the frustration of that relationship. I’m not sure we experience that same response to the novel.


Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs at Actors Theatre in the Pamela Brown Auditorium through October 10, 2018. The play runs 2 hours and 15 minutes, with 15 minutes intermission.

A Sensory Friendly performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time will take place Sunday October 7, 2018 at 2:30 p.m.

For Tickets, see https://actorstheatre.org/shows/the-curious-incident-of-he-dog-in-the-night-time/ or call: 502-584.1205.


Nettie Farris is the author of Communion (Accents Publishing, 2013), Fat Crayons (Finishing Line Press, 2015), and the Wendy Bird Poems (Dancing Girl Press). Her poetry has appeared in the Journal of Kentucky Studies, Louisville Review, LEO Weekly, and Appalachian Heritage. Nettie has also performed with the Louisville Ballet.

Nettie is a part-time lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Louisville, and at Indiana University Southeast. She lives in Floyds Knobs, Indiana.

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