While I was in London this past semester, I spent an evening in the West End watching Simon Stephens’ stage adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. The play centers around Christopher, a young boy on the Autism Spectrum, as he solves the mystery of who killed his neighbor’s dog. Visually stunning, suspenseful, and enthralling, it certainly made for an excellent night at the theatre. The technical elements were excellent, and the dialogue was so tight that the play resembled Mid-19th Century French Well-Made Plays.
Then, at the very end of the play, the most adorable puppy I’ve ever seen enters the stage in the arms of one of the actors, and something sours in me. I look around at a theatre melting at the sight of this dog, as a fully abled adult actor plays a fifteen year old boy with autism. The piece of theatre I’ve just seen is so visually and aurally stimulating that I’m exhausted, can’t imagine what my experience would have been were I prone to sensory overload. I realized I have been sold a theatrical experience in a completely new way.
I’m struggling to figure out the implications of the event. On one hand, Curious Incident puts a non-normative experience at the center of a commercial stage. The amount audience this play has reached, from its original National Theatre Production to its Broadway and West End transfers is vast, and it’s no small achievement for any play to run for the amount of time it’s been running.
However, I can’t shake the notion that the production prioritized the commodification of the protagonists experience of the world on the Autism Spectrum over providing a space for that story to be told. That this story existed first and foremost as a vehicle for pleasure, and in a sense used Christopher’s unique experience as a marketing ploy rather than giving voice to his experience and facilitating a dialogue about varying perspectives.
But once that puppy came out on stage, that solidified everything for me. That moment ties the whole event up in a neat little bow. Under normal circumstances that might make me angry, but with a puppy as adorable as this, how could I ever feel that way?