Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time London
We went on 02/03/19 at 19.30pm and sat in the Stalls
It’s a play that needs no introduction – though it’s literally impossible to write about it without giving it a short one.
Based on Mark Haddon’s novel of the same name – taken from a Sherlock Holmes story – the National Theatre’s production first came to the London stage in 2012 and has since had several tours. It’s back in London until 27 April 2019 so we popped along to see it again.
I wanted to revisit the play since the #Puppetgate row on Twitter. This is a current movement against All In A Row, a play by Alex Oates running at the Southwark Playhouse until 09 March 2019. It’s caused upset within the autism community for the replacement of an autistic actor by use of a puppet. The only character in the play represented by a puppet was the autistic character – an ill advised move considering people with autism face discrimination and marginalisation in their everyday lives.
One of the bigger neurotypical, neurodiverse or allistic (pick a term you feel happy with) argument was why is nobody picking on Curious Incident?
It’s could be a valid point. The appropriation of disabled characters by people without disabilities ‘cripping up’ is gaining more traction each year.
I had a long, hard think about why I found that appropriation by Curious Incident acceptable. In a way, it isn’t. They have in recent years cast autistic actors as the main character Christopher, which is a move in the right direction. It needs to keep moving that way.
It’s so hard for children with autism to access everything their peers are able to. It could be due to the financial difficulties having a disability causes. It could be the lack of opportunities through being excluded from education. It could be that accessing acting lessons just isn’t possible because they are not set up for neurodiverse children. That’s why it’s not fair to see actors taking roles away from people with autism. The opportunity to play that part is taken away during childhood. It smarts.
But where it does redeem itself is that for us as a family, it gets Asperger’s spot on. It is often criticised within the autism community for presenting autism in a stereotypical way. But, for some people, autism is fairly stereotypical.
The way the production creates the sensory processing difficulties experienced by Christoper in transit to London is bang on the money. In a way, it is people without autism taking the autistic experience and showing it back to people without autism who have paid to be entertained. It’s a bit Victorian sideshow, but for many ‘normal’ people, it’s their first step towards empathising with the difficulties autism presents.
I have faith that Curious Incident can bridge a gap as time goes on whereas plays like All In A Row never will. It will give autistic actors the chance to play their world on stage.
“It’s called acting,” is the most infuriating tone policing argument I hear towards accepting cripping up by people without disabilities. Usually, they will name characters like Superman, Fred Flintstone of The Hulk that actors need to pretend to be. I don’t believe a person without autism can ever truly act a person with autism. They just don’t have the life experience. I do believe people with other disabilities can act as other characters with different disabilities, because it’s a lived experience they can relate to.
In the meantime, I will keep the faith that for now, Curious Incident doesn’t do more harm than good. But, it is so important that children with autism are given the opportunities to access acting. The Curious experience starts during childhood. It starts when they start accessing school and wider opportunities. That’s when it becomes the acting industry’s responsibility. How fair and accessible are you being to people with autism? That’s the question you need to ask and eventually, it might not seem such an impossibility for children like Christopher to take main and leading roles on the stage as standard.
I took my eleven-year-old son with me to see the play. He had already seen it in Bristol a few years back. I asked him his opinion on the piece. He felt it was really good, that it was funny. He could see himself on stage, the way he sees the world, the way he interprets language and the overwhelming feelings that sound, touch, noise and busyness can cause. He loved it because he felt it fairly represented him.
“I want to be an actor,” he told me at the end. “I want to go to drama school and be an autistic actor and play the role of Christopher when I’m older.” That was quite an upsetting moment because like the end of the play when Christopher turns to Siobhan and asks if he can do anything, I couldn’t answer. It’s not up to me, it’s up to how much the rest of society will allow him to access.
For more information, visit: https://www.curiousonstage.com/