The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: A Theatre Review

curious

I’d heard several positive reviews of this show from trusted friends before going to see it. It was by the National Theatre’s touring company. The pictures looked good. I liked the book. It held every promise of being great.

I didn’t love it though.

I liked moments, but as a whole, it just failed to excite or impress me. It had all the gimmicks and glitz of theatre but none of the magic.

The music that was deployed for impact during scene changes or mood settings was offensively loud and erratic and terrible, and I didn’t care whether it was supposed to signify something.

The acting style was the same old monotony of shouting every line quickly with no emotional honesty or breathing space, a real pet hate of mine and other theatre practitioners and theatre lovers that I know.

The cast were not at fault – let’s get that out of the way – the performances were slick, professional and disciplined throughout, and the ensemble carried off some physical sequences that were themselves impressive, for instance one in which one character slowed down and the rest sped up, which was executed brilliantly and conveyed exactly the feeling that the protagonist was describing (one the audience could clearly all relate to.)

Rather, what was completely not my cup of tea was most of the decisions the director had made. One massive problem I had with it was that it was constantly played for laughs. This really stole from the pure, unassuming pathos and subtlety of the book and turned it into more of a pantomime, both isolating the story’s original audience by subtracting one of its most fundamental winning qualities and, dare I say it, perhaps knowingly fleecing a widely popular piece of art by cashing in on the title while undermining its message.

While I’m on the topic of undermining the original message, (and when I say ‘message’, I mean the feeling, the tone, the incommunicable something that made the book great for those of us that it did – the book speaks for itself) there are some tropes I really didn’t care for, elements of theatre that always make me cringe, because they are dangerous and outdated. Let’s talk about Comedy Regionals.

I have been guilty myself, in naive years, of penning short plays and sketches that pander to the idea that regional accents are funny, and that it’s fine to reduce characters to being just that accent, and enforcing that Everything They Say Is Hilarious *Coughbecauseregionalsarethick*. [It’s the ‘cough’ part that’s dangerous and outdated, by the way.] I seem to have rammed something down your throat there, but that’s what the show does, and it’s not obvious enough to the producers that this is what they’re doing, and I’m pretty sure the guffawing members of the audience missed it too.

This idea is pretty much constantly brought to our attention in this show. Actors adhere to racial stereotypes – a point a friend of mine was more passionately disgruntled about, although personally I saw it as less significant as they each played a number of roles with a number of accents, although of course it was the stereotypical accents that were designed for the big laughs. Also, our protagonist had a habit of repeating certain words or concepts he had just heard, in exactly the voice he’d heard it in. Okay, fine, we might make such a show of trying to pronounce something exactly as we heard it in some instances, for example when learning foreign languages. And okay, fine, this boy has Asperger’s, and perhaps what we’re being told along with that people with Asperger’s may be uncomfortable with copious human contact (sometimes true) and that they are all geniuses (rarely true and not necessary) is that they are also fastidious with details when it comes to language. But these were the only moments in which he was so pronounced, and the working of the mouth over these new words was done in such a zealous way that it might as well have accompanied a wink and a nudge at the audience – who were seemingly his naughty schoolmates at the back of the class in these moments.

That was another point that worried me. This actor was a grown man. He was capable and intelligent and talented enough to be giving a fair portrayal of a much younger boy, with a very visible condition so unlike our established society norm. He was doing it well, and so, the audience were on his side. And this power is dangerous. It bothered me that someone who had gained their trust and good opinion, even if only for a couple of hours because that’s all it takes to make a lasting impression, was using this power irresponsibly. Gullible audience were being taken in by someone who was encouraging them to laugh at accents, laugh at unusual behaviour (including features of the Asperger’s) and laugh at being disrespectful and laugh at others.

This is so not the point of the story. You don’t get it. I thought.

Now, it wasn’t without its glories. The set was incredible. It was resourcefully used, it was quickly and slickly changed to suit varying tones, and it was very pretty. The use of lights within the graph-paper-blackboard cube space was clever and used to great effect. I liked it. But it didn’t overcome the lack of magic for me.

*Spoiler alert: The Easter Egg ending was a neat idea, and was fun, but at the same time it heightened the panto level and made me feel I was in the wrong place; being an adult interested in innovative theatre.

My views are my own. Why not go and find out for yourself?

More details and a trailer here on the show’s official website.

Or buy the book by Mark Haddon, which is much better.

An exclusive interview with Alexander King, author of It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter

itlookslikeyourewritingaletter_cover

Cover graphics by Andy Curry. Click on the image to buy the book.

Recently I was privileged enough to get an early glimpse at this debut novel from author-musician Alexander King. If that wasn’t exciting enough, (it was) he agreed to tell me a bit more about it, to share with you all on here (below).

I had a great time with this book. It’s a fast-paced, gripping social-media-social-commentary thriller. I liked it as a detective story, and a road movie, and as everything else it was, because it’s so much more. King paints affectingly the exhilaration of unexpected moments of human connection, and other poignant reminders of the sad state of modern-day interaction.

It’s full of cheeky, fun, clever uses of language and tasty characters. I can see it working really well on the big screen should we be lucky enough to see an adaptation. The world-building was immediate, natural and effective. It had terrifying parallels with our own reality. The ending was very satisfying, which is a big thing to say of any story, though I was hungry for an extension of time in this world when I finished reading.

Fun, thought-provoking, insightful and poignant. And fun. Looking forward to a second read, and to sharing it with my friends and family.

Anyway, enough of what I think, let’s hear from the man himself.

1.1 What’s the book about?

It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter is a sci-fi/detective story set in the near future, in a world where one social network knows everything about everyone. It follows Henry Thorner, a consultant who specialises in missing persons cases, trying to track down a young hacker called Tanner Griffen. The ubiquity of Ora, the world’s largest social network, makes his job harder as he’s “off-grid” and he’s trying to find someone who is an expert in manipulating the online world. There are twists and turns, murders and double-crosses and an explosive denouement.

1.2       What does the story mean to you?

On the one hand, it’s a way for me to pay homage to all my favourite literary and cinematic tropes, but on the other I’m exploring a subject very close to me, which is our digital life and how it’s changing, and whether these changes are a good thing or a bad thing. I had a friend who died young, and his social profiles lived on without him and it got me thinking about how much of our ‘soul’ is contained in databases owned by huge corporations.

1.3       Describe the route to this debut novel being published…

I took part in NaNoWriMo last year (2013) and wrote the first draft of 50,000 words in the month of November. I wrote 1600 words every day without fail which was tough but a huge achievement personally. The book went through a long editing process, I think I did nine or ten drafts, with the help of an editor friend of mine. Once I considered it complete I had a cursory attempt at sending it to a few literary agents and had a few rejections before deciding to self-publish digitally. I figured I could bang my head against the wall of the literary establishment for a year while my story withered on the vine, or publish and be damned and have real humans actually read it. It was a no-brainer.

1.4       How do you feel about the cover graphics?

I love the book cover. Andy Curry has done a great job both on the concept and the execution. I like it because like the book title, it doesn’t really make sense until you’ve read the book.

1.5       Any chance of an adaptation?

I hope so! I’d love the story to be made into a film. When I wrote it, I basically played a film in my head and wrote down what I “saw”, so I think it would suit that media. There’s enough action in it and colourful characters to make it something I think people would watch. I’m also realistic enough to accept changes to the characters or stories if the book was turned into a screenplay by someone else.

1.6       What’s your Thing? Do you lean toward a certain style/theme/time?

I love stories with an interesting concept or premise. Something that makes a reader think and maybe see life in a different way. Quite lofty ideas but why spent months of your life on something if you don’t want to change a little corner of the world, or people’s perceptions? This book is an action/adventure novel and exploration of the human race as data in equal measure.

1.7       Why do you write?

It’s just another creative outlet really. I also write music for theatre and film, draw and paint and play guitar in a rock band. I often start with an idea then determine what media best suits it. I’ve got an idea for a play, for example, that I think is pretty strong, but that idea wouldn’t work as a novel. I’ve never written a play before, but it would be exciting to try.

1.8       Who/what are your influences/inspirations?

I love Philip K Dick, Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Bret Easton Ellis, Ray Bradbury and all the big Sci-Fi writers.

1.9       Favourite writers?

See above!

1.10  What are you reading?

I’m currently reading I, Robot by Asimov and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. I listen to audiobooks in my car when driving to and from work every day, and have a paper book on the go at home.

1.11  Describe your writing routine/ritual

I read a lot about the first hours of the day being the most productive and this has proven to be true. I get up an hour before my family (very early when you have a 3 year old!) when the house is quiet and nobody is asking me to do other things. An hour is usually enough.

1.12  Do you have an agent? Why?

No. It’s a bit early in my writing career and I feel I have to prove myself before I can seriously approach people like agents and publishers. I’m really hoping that the interest in It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter will create a bit of a buzz around what I do.

1.13  What were your biggest learning experiences or surprises throughout the publishing process?

How easy it was. I paid a company to format the ebook to the acceptable technical standards, then used SmashWords to push it out to most of the online bookstores. Amazon and Google Play had to be done manually, but even they were just a case of filling out a few online forms and bingo – you’re published.

1.14  Would you have done anything differently if you could do it again?

Knowing what I do now? Everything! I pretty much learned how to write in the process of writing this book, which sounds a bit melodramatic but it’s true. I thought I knew a bit about grammar and punctuation but when you actually sit down and analyse your work word-for-word it’s a real eye-opener. The plus side is that I feel more at ease about the idea of tackling another book.

1.15  Something personal about you that people may be surprised to know?

I teach Wing Chun Kung Fu, which I’ve trained for 16 years.

1.16  Would you identify yourself as a writer, or something else?

I would like to! I think having written a full-length book that I’m very proud of should qualify me. It’s not all I do, but I’d like to add it to my list of skills if that’s not too presumptuous.

1.17  What are you working on next?

I think I’m going to do NaNoWriMo again this year. I’ve got a half-baked idea for a novel with a lot of depth, probably a lot less action-based than It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter and more psychological. Plus I’m writing music all the time for some York based film and theatre companies and trying to be a good father and husband at the same time!

1.18  What’s your ultimate goal, writing or otherwise?

To be happy. I think that should be everyone’s goal. Everything you do should go some way towards making you a happy person. If you’re doing something that makes you miserable, stop doing it.

AK

You’re welcome.

You can buy the book here, which you should, like, now, because it’s currently an absolute steal at £1.83.

Check out Alexander’s own website here in time for when you’ve finished reading the book and developed a totally healthy celebrity obsession.