Mark Haddon’s incredible novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, is being brought to the stage for the first time. James Glavin talks to lead actor Luke Treadaway about rehearsals, aliens and the benefit of an ever-changing hairstyle
Anyone who has read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time can imagine the challenges involved in bringing it to the stage. On the face of it, Mark Haddon’s acclaimed 2003 novel has a simple premise: it’s the story of teenage narrator Christopher Boone, who investigates the murder of his neighbour’s pet dog. But what makes the novel so remarkable is the complex nature of Christopher’s character.
He describes himself as a “mathematician with behavioural problems”, which basically translates to Asperger syndrome – never stated explicitly but widely asumed. And it’s this definitive quirk in the book’s narration that must make it near impossible to bring to life on the stage.
That challenge has fallen to 27-year-old actor Luke Treadaway, who spoke to Scout during his lunch break from rehearsals at the National Theatre.
“Rehearsals are going really well,” he says. “My body is feeling slightly broken, but my soul is soaring. It’s a very physical production – we’re even doing circuit training every morning in preparation, so it’s very challenging on the body. We’re working on these incredible movement sequences which we hope will be rather wonderful.”
The movement sequences come courtesy of Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett of physical theatre company Frantic Assembly. The audience can therefore expect a fair share of inventive and revealing set pieces. But even so, how can Christopher’s strange, internal world be brought to the stage?
“I think the way that Simon Stephens has adapted the book is so clever. It really does feel like you’ve still got the essence of it coming from Christopher’s mind,” says Treadaway. “The whole feel and design of the show is like this laboratory of Christopher’s brain in which the rest of the cast exists. Christopher in effect calls on each member of the company to come up and play a part of the story.”
Treadaway is animated in his enthusiasm, and seems to have immersed himself in Christopher’s world. It sounds like an intense place to be.
“I suppose every job always feels quite intense, but this one is ticking every box imaginable in terms of challenges. But in an amazing way. Like the book, and Christopher’s mind, it’s so expansive and imaginative.”
Treadaway hadn’t read the book before becoming involved with the production. Last year, after a month-long, 3,000-mile road trip around America, he found himself in New York with nowhere to stay. Fortunately, Marianne Elliott, who had previously directed him in War Horse, was in New York preparing for the opening of the Broadway version of the show. She offered him her spare room, and happened to ask if he was interested in taking part in a workshop for a potential production of Curious Incident.
“I hadn’t read it,” he admits. “I’d heard of it – in fact I knew there was a copy of it in the house but I’d never got around to reading it. So after Marianne asked me to take part in the workshop, I went back to the UK, read it and thought it was an amazing book.”
The week-long workshop took place last December, at the end of which Elliott offered Treadaway the job. To say he was excited is an understatement. “I just started screaming and saying, ‘That’s amazing! Really? Are you sure?’,” he recalls.
With War Horse, Saint Joan and now Curious Incident on his CV, the National has certainly played an important part in his career to date – he’s practically a National Theatre regular.
He laughs. “I wouldn’t go that far. To be honest, I’d work with Marianne if she was directing a play in a car park in the middle of nowhere.
“Obviously this building is amazing. The whole feel of being here is very exciting. I remember coming and watching things here when I was at drama school and thinking, ‘Maybe, one day…’. And now I’m performing in my third production here. It’s such a welcoming place to come back to.”
This production will be broadcast to cinemas across London and the world on September 6 as part of the National Theatre Live programme. With an enviable résumé that includes blockbuster Clash Of The Titans and British horror/comedy Attack The Block, Treadaway is no stranger to the silver screen.
“Attack The Block was a lot of fun,” he says. “I got to work with my friend Jodie [Whittaker], which was fantastic. And [director] Joe Cornish and [co-star] Nick Frost were a delight to work with. It was such a fun, escapist film to make.”
The film has built up quite the cult following. Does he get stopped in the street as a result?
“Not really, actually. I seem to have different hair for every job I do, so I hardly ever get recognised. Which is good, I like that.”
We ask Treadaway about his future plans, but he is evasive: “There are a couple of things floating about, but nothing definite. I’m concentrating on this for now.”
And who can blame him? It sounds like a job and a half.