One of the neat things about the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and its award-winning stage adaptation is its ability to subvert expectations, a trick neatly pulled off in BBC One’s latest Imagine… documentary, My Curious Documentary.
Although it does what it says on the tin, charting the production’s rise from the National Theatre’s smallest of its three stages to winning five Tony Awards on Broadway, the focus is actually more closely on the autistic spectrum than had been expected.
For those unaware, Curious Incident tells the story of 15 year old Christopher who discovers a dog with a pitchfork through it outside his home. As one of the consultants in the documentary points out, to Christopher the murder of a dog is no different to a human homicide – an atrocious act has been committed and should be investigated regardless of the victim being human or canine.
The documentary followed a number of people with autism and their relationship to the play, some of whom were consultants for the actors and production team in both the UK and for the US adaptation.
The children of Holmewood School, a place specialising in educating those with autism, were shown to be learning about the play before making a trip into London to watch it, echoing the sensory bombardment of the tube that Christopher goes through in the play.
A couple of the kids discussed being fascinated by Sherlock Holmes and identified with him as a kindred spirit, highlighting how recent media interpretations such as Elementary and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock place the character at different points on the autistic spectrum, something that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may not have been aware of when creating the original.
I was fortunate enough to see the original 2012 National Theatre production with Luke Treadaway in the lead role before it joined the West End and then on to becoming today’s global smash. It remains the best piece of theatre I have seen and it rightly won seven Olivier Awards.
It was interesting to see Treadaway discussing autism with someone who has the condition, but it wasn’t clear if the interviews had been recorded especially for Imagine… or came from the archive. We heard brief snippets from other actors who had portrayed Christopher, most notably Alex Sharp who earlier this year won a Tony for his performance.
Autism was beautifully described by the wonderful teacher at Holmewood as being in a bath with the water always about to spill. That is the uncertain world lived in which is brought to life in spectacular fashion by playwright Simon Stephens and director Marianne Elliott.
Aired at 10.40pm on Tuesday 10 November 2015 on BBC One.
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