The Curious Incident…opening night @MKTheatre

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME
London

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Theatre review
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, 
Milton Keynes Theatre – Monday, 4th September to Saturday, 16th September.

Simply wow (and then some). What a phenomenal opening night at Milton Keynes Theatre for the acclaimed National Theatre production, Curious Incident. 

With its dazzling projections, stunning choreography and the brilliance (not to mention sheer stamina) of its actors, it left me both mesmerised and with much food for thought.

Based on the best-selling Mark Haddon novel, Simon Stephens’ powerful adaptation takes us deep inside the mind of 15-year-old mathematical savant, Christopher Boone, who resolutely sets his mind on identifying the killer of a neighbour’s dog – forcing many of those around him to lose their minds in the process. 

Mathematical symbolism looms large throughout. The entire play is acted within a hi-tech steel cube, with grids, patterns and messages projected in LED lights. As the action moves relentlessly between (3,7) and (8,8) and (6,4), it’s no coincidence that as a neurotypical (or NT) person, you feel like a round peg forced into a square hole (precisely what our society demands of people with neurological differences). 

 There’s something very moving about Christopher being bawled out for not holding eye contact, misinterpreting idioms and failing to grasp what is inferred. It really begs the question: do we truly understand the challenges we all unwittingly contribute to?

The overriding message of this play is the relentless assault from multisensory stimuli. It leaves you both fixated and mildly exhausted as you struggle to process the frenetically changing scenery. As the book’s author has been quoted as saying – this play is not really about Christopher and his autism but about examining our own consciences as we pay lip service to ‘understanding’. 

 Scott Reid plays the leading role astoundingly (right down to Christopher’s every movement) and is superbly supported by Lucianne McEvoy as his school mentor, Siobhan. Her soft, mellow tones provide some welcome respite from Christopher’s monologues and the emotional intensity of David Michaels and Emma Beattie as his battle-scarred parents, who incidentally are both fantastic too. 

The choreography beautifully portrays Christopher’s sensory processing turmoil, as well as the lesser-known autistic deficits around proprioception – that is, problems with sensing the position and movement of the body in space. In short, autistic people often feel as if they’re not grounded. Through the very clever sequences, Christopher spends much of his time being twisted and twirled through the air by his fellow actors. 

The train scenes, both mainline and tube, are among the visual and dramatic highlights. A forceful message is conveyed by commuters selfishly grabbing away baggage blocks on which Christopher is outstretched – leaving him literally clinging onto life’s rollercoaster by his stomach. 

Eliza Collings, in the role of headteacher Mrs Gascoyne, also deserves credit for her comedy timing. I appreciated the laughs in a play of this intensity. 

This really is an incredible piece of theatre. It’s a play within a play. It’s so many things that I definitely need to stop here and persuade you to go and see it. Running at Milton Keynes Theatre until 16th September, it’s your last chance to catch it in the UK before its Christopher-style world adventure. Booking is highly recommended. 

Sue Crowther,
Freelance writer & editor,
Northamptonshire.

 

Too much to say…about the political legacy of Grenfell Tower

Blog post #1

WARNING: Socialist content!

THE 79 (or maybe 300) victims of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe – already well and truly buried by the mainstream media – have left us a hugely positive legacy.

For that ferociously-burning pyre, and all its depths of human suffering, did something in 15 minutes that few politicians have managed in decades…

It told the truth.

A truth that no amount of press officers or public relations gurus could sanitise. In vivid orange flames, licking across the London skyline, it blatantly spelled out what many of us already know. This ‘marvellous’, prosperous nation of ours – Great Britain – is actually rather rotten at heart.

The religious and fatalistic might well have acknowledged a symbolism in that towering beacon of hopelessness – set against a backdrop of conspicuous wealth and the rampant consumerism of White City. The ultimate metaphor for the ugly, gaping divide between our haves and have-nots.

Yet rising from the embers of that dreadful night’s events was a thoroughly refreshing dawn chorus – an unpolished symphony of raw, passionate voices. Some irate, many distraught…but all expressing the sort of heartfelt sentiments rarely conveyed in this bland, PR-driven culture of ours. A shrill burst of high notes from a repressed and long-forgotten tribe.

After so many years of Establishment-friendly press and PR, an unprecedented glimpse into another world – the great uncensored on open mics (‘real’ people speaking with levels of honesty and fervour in direct disproportion to their bank balances).

For what must have been the first time since the late 70s, we heard a vastly different narrative to the one relentlessly perpetuated by the dominant, filthy rich, ruling class. Capitalism’s ‘losers’ had a soap box…and no one was editing their words or shouting them down.

Sadly, I can’t think of any circumstances – other than this appalling tragedy – where such views have been so freely broadcast.

Being of a certain age, I remember the advent of Thatcherism, with its bitter, long-running miners’ strike and unbridled poll tax riots. I was too young to realise it at the time, but those events really marked a turning point for freedom of speech in this country – part of a concerted campaign to crush the political will of the people. In recent weeks, digesting the horrific catalogue of missed opportunities at Grenfell Tower, it struck me just how successful ‘they’d’ been in silencing my generation.

Things had been so different in 1979 when my Grandad (a fiery and straight-talking union man at North Middlesex Hospital) ranted furiously at the TV: “You mark my words. It’ll be every jack man for himself now.” So furious was he about ‘Maggie Bloody Thatcher’ that I’m pretty sure she was directly blamed for at least one of his several heart attacks. Beneath the anger though was a fiercely caring man, always rooting for the underdog. He foresaw where we were heading 40 years ago (and was spot on).

Slowly but surely came the dividing and conquering of a formerly influential class of people. Manual industries spitefully dismantled; proud men emasculated and then condemned for not getting ahead in service sector non-jobs they neither wanted nor were qualified to do.

Politically, you had two choices: swap your placard for a Filofax and declare yourself a Tory or retreated into the closet – fearful of outing yourself as a ‘loony lefty’, which was tantamount to declaring yourself a terrorist (especially at work).

As a spirited rookie reporter on my local newspaper, I felt there was every reason to join the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), but cynicism quickly set in. The Father of the Chapel was a suspiciously positive yes-man – most probably planted by management to water down our gripes and persuade us that working all day every day (and half the night) for no extra pay was acceptable. We were fortunate to have jobs. Collective bargaining was not in our best interests and we should all look forward to our individual appraisals with performance-related pay rises.

Legitimate complaints became half-hearted whimpers – drowned out by the annual celebrations of profit-making by our parent company. Weary staff were bought with share options, turning a blind eye to the fact there was rainwater gushing through the newsroom ceiling (due to chronic underinvestment in people and buildings). I’d like to say I declined my company shares on principle, but I’m pretty sure I just couldn’t scrape together the 250 quid. On an annual salary of £7,000, is it any wonder?

Elsewhere, more and more of my peers (especially those on the Tories’ public sector hitlist) were being marginalised and silenced by the pompous and entitled – with a massive helping hand from the right wing press and a small army of PR experts and propaganda spinners. Business interests and dubious reputations were guarded at all costs. Greed, selfishness and a general lack of concern for others became mainstream and palatable.

Cleverly, they managed to convince both the lower middle and aspirational working classes that the money men’s goals were their goals too. Honesty and openness, fairness and compassion were the also-rans: nonchalantly sacrificed on the altar of profit.

So where do we find ourselves now?

Living in a country that has always prided itself on its democratic channels, it’s been shocking to realise how powerless and impotent we’ve all become.

Benefits being withdrawn without warning (simply because the rules have been tightened and not due to any change in circumstances); GP surgeries and hospitals turning people away to maybe live or maybe die. Three hours to get an ambulance to my dying dad in February.

Meanwhile, Mrs May’s dinner party guestlist is looking decidedly more narrow and select than her predecessors’ once did.

It makes me wonder if there are still working class Tories out there – nodding along as she bungs out the media D-notices and £1 billion bribes to cling onto power. Even the middle class, which once firmly identified with Mrs. T, must surely be feeling vulnerable to this increasingly harsh brand of austerity-driven capitalism.

Outside the top 5-10% of earners, does anyone still believe the Conservatives are the party for all or that Mrs May really understands their fears and concerns?

Although, having said that, the embattled Premier perhaps has far more in common with the working class than she cares to realise.

Teetering on the brink of joblessness, with the Government plotting against her and crises coming at her from all angles, she’s actually getting a bitter taste of daily life for those living on or below the breadline in this country.