The page-to-stage transfer of Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time made its Broadway debut in the fall of 2014.
Curious Incident arrived in the U.S. after a celebrated premiere at The National Theatre in London in 2012. The show tells the story of a gifted 15-year-old named Christopher and his journey to uncover the mystery behind the death of his neighbor’s dog. The 2015 Tony Award–winning play, written by Simon Stephens, is currently on the boards on both sides of the pond: at The Ethel Barrymore Theater on Broadway and at The Gielgud Theatre on London’s West End. NY1 theater reporter Frank DiLella recently caught up with Stephens, along with the show’s Broadway star Tyler Lea and associate director Benjamin E. Klein, to talk about the ongoing success of this powerful drama.
Simon, at this time last year you were gearing up for the 2015 Tony Awards, where you took home a statue for your play.
Stephens: I used to be quite embarrassed about awards, and I used to keep them as door props. In fact, one of my Oliviers still props open our downstairs toilet door, which is hilarious because we feed the cats down there, so when the door swings shut they can’t get their food. So we prop it open with my Olivier award. [Laughs.] But my Tony Award, that’s got a little shelf with a couple other awards on the way to our bedroom. It was an extraordinary day that I think about quite often.
Can you reflect on the year gone by?
Stephens: It’s so strange. You know, I wrote the play for four people. I wrote it for Mark Haddon and my three children. Mark asked me to write the adaptation — I like him as a friend and adore him as a writer, and I wanted the intellectual challenge to even see if I could do that. And I wanted to write something that my children could go and see because my plays ordinarily can be quite upsetting and dark, and even violent. Then the idea that it was taken up by director Marianne Elliott and The National Theatre — that it could have a life and go all the way to New York, and then be received the way that it was — the night of the Tonys was bewildering and exciting! The idea that it’s now going to tour the whole USA in the fall, I find that immensely moving and immensely flattering. I think about the central character of Christopher, a character who finds it so hard to leave his own street. For me, the tour or the journey to the USA is Christopher leaving — going to New York, and then all of America. And I find it extremely moving that that boy is going so far. I don’t know if I will ever process it.
Ben, you began your journey with Curious Incident when the show premiered on Broadway. As the associate director, your play is enjoying a healthy two-year run — something uncommon with plays. Most plays run less than a year. What’s the secret behind the success of Curious Incident?
Klein: I think a big part of why this play continues to run is because it’s almost like a musical in the way it uses sound design, projection design — huge theatrical events and choreography and all kinds of different things. It also brings what you would normally think of with a play — there are these incredibly intimate and moving scenes.
Tyler, you took over the role of Christopher when Tony winner Alex Sharp left the play last September. The part of Christopher is both physically and emotionally demanding. How did you prepare for this experience?
Lea: I started rehearsing in August. I spent the whole month of July doing yoga and Pilates to get myself in shape for the role. I went into rehearsal knowing all my lines because I knew it would be impossible to do all the choreography without knowing the lines and being ready to go.
And your daily routine to bring Christopher to life each night?
Lea: I have to be disciplined. I don’t drink a lot of alcohol. I do a two-and-a-half-hour workout on stage each night, so I try not to do a lot of physical work during the day. But when I get to the theatre, I do 45 minutes of stretching, vocalizing. I need to be disciplined with how I use my energy during the day.
Simon, what I love about this play is that it really is a play for today. Christopher represents a large population of folks in our world. Truly gifted individuals.
Stephens: Yes. What was important for Mark and myself was that Christopher shouldn’t be defined by any condition that he has. This is just a boy who sees the world with more clarity than any person would see it; he sees the world with a sense of energy and detail that most of us lack. He can see things that most of us don’t notice. I think as audiences we cherish that — it helps us go out in the world and see the uncertainties and difficulties. I think it’s a play about how difficult it is living in cities and the difficulties of sustaining family in a time of emotional dislocation. I think it’s a play about living with divorce — the possibility of loving people at a time when life can be hard. I think Christopher is a character that finds a capacity to love, and I cherish that.
Speaking of families, how many times have your kids seen the show?
Stephens: My youngest — my daughter — has only seen it once. And my sons have seen it three or four times. They’re not that bothered with the play anymore. [Laughs.] They mainly get excited going backstage to meet the rats. Not even the actors — they just want to meet the rats!
Simon, while Curious Incident is slated to close on Broadway in early September, you’re launching a national tour. Not to mention you will be back on the boards in New York with your Off-Broadway–to–Broadway transfer of Heisenberg.
Stephens: I can’t wait. There’s going to be a moment where I’ll almost have two shows on Broadway. I’m missing it by two weeks. [Laughs.]