Non ho ancora raccontato molto del mio ultimo viaggetto a Londra, perché aspettavo che uscisse il reportage che ho fatto nell’Essex. Era un racconto che volevo fare da tempo, e una volta arrivata nella zona di Southend on sea, ho capito dell’immensità della cosa! Sono tanti i ragazzi italiani stanchi del calcio in Italia, qui da noi le squadre non pagano, e i procuratori o gli agenti fanno i prepotenti e i padroni: sopperiscono alla mancanza di talento! Così come in altre professioni….ad esempio il giornalismo d’oggi! E’ per questo che è importante raccontare di questi ragazzi che scappano nell’Essex, dove il calcio della “Non League” non ammette certo agenti o procuratori, ma solo la bravura in campo. Due pagine sul FattoQuotidiano in edicola lunedì 21 settembre, racconto tutto questo.
Ma a Londra ho fatto anche un’altra cosa grandiosa: sono andata a teatro nella zona Piccadilly a vedere “Lo strano caso del cane ucciso a mezzanotte“. Dunque, il libro di Mark Haddon è tra i miei preferiti, anzi forse proprio il mio preferito in assoluto. E sono stata così rapita, così sedotta, così invaghita dalla trama raccontata a teatro dal protagonista, che non volevo più alzarmi dal mio posto.
Si tratta della trasposizione teatrale di Simon Stephens. Qui sotto ci sono le interviste più importanti che sono riuscita a fare, e il livello degli attori in scena è altissimo. La scenografia era grandiosa. Essenziale, ma piena di effetti. Sembrava tutto semplice, in realtà c’era dietro uno studio accurato di ogni movimento sul palco. E siccome per la maggior parte del tempo Christopher era solo in scena, la cosa diventava ancora più magica.
In questa foto c’è la gabbia, dove si muovevano tutti sul palco.
E queste le mie interviste!!!
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
· What inspired you to adapt The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time forthe stage?
Mark Haddon asked me to write it for him. I was immensely flattered. I loved the book for years and was inspired by it in earlier plays before I’d even met him. I was daunted by the book’s celebrity and fascinated by the challenge of how one dramatises a novel. I very much wanted to find out what Christopher’s parents looked like and thought a good way of doing that would be to dramatise them.
· How did you go about adapting Mark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which Mark, himself had described as un-stageable
The innate dramatic charge of his dialogue means his work is eminently stageable. I spent some time trying to separate the narrative from the prose of the book. I worked through it listing all the events that happened in the story. I then spent some time transcribing the direct speech. I had the hunch that in the direct speech there would be clues as to the books dramatic heart. It was through this that I came up with the idea of using Siobhan as a narrator. She is one of only three people who read Christopher’s book in the novel and her view point is so much like the novel’s readers. I also think that the idea of a favourite teacher is one many people can relate to. She’s a peripheral character in the novel but central to the play.
· What do you think the story is about and why does it appeal to readers and theatre-goers?
I think it’s a story about family. I think it’s about what it’s like to raise a child or be raised; to parent or have parents. I think it’s a celebration of the capacity for bravery in the most unlikely of environments. Stories of bravery resonate. Stories of families resonate.
· How much did you and Mark collaborate on the stage adaptation?
Hardly at all! He told me I could do what I wanted. He was supportive and I also kept a beautiful distance. He read early drafts and was very encouraging.
· Can you tell us something about the staging and why you think Marianne Elliott was the right choice to direct the play.
Marianne has an innate sense of democracy. She combines a fearlessly and ferociously theatrical imagination with a real concern for her audience. She and designer Bunny C rhistie and the rest of the artistic team committed completely to trying to get into Christopher’s head and dramatise his world from within. That’s what watching the play feels like. t feels like you’re in Christopher’s brain.
· How involved were you with the creative process?
I was at a fair few rehearsals – mainly to offer occasional re-writes and a very few insights into the progression. But Marianne and her team were so robust that they didn’t need me too much. I mainly turned up late and tried to make everybody a cup of tea.
· How do you feel about the show touring around the UK and Ireland? Are you excited about the fact that the show is opening at the Lowry in Salford?
Well it means the world to me. The whole notion of the tour seems to resonate beautifully with Christopher and his sense of adventure and bravery in the novel. The book is a road story and we’re hitting the road. That it might start at the Lowry in Salford, so near where I was born and raised means the world. I’m taking sixteen members of my family, including my 94 year old Granma to opening night. In fact the show is starting at the Lowry so she can see it!
· How did you feel about the success of the show – from the Cottelsloe – the National Theatre’s smallest space, to the West End, and on to Broadway..
Well I ‘m proud of it. And proud that we never compromised anything to have it succeed. We never tried to succeed with the play. We just tried to tell the story as well as we could. I think that bravery and sense of experiment comes through in the performance and the idea that bravery like that appeals to people is inspiring.
· What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I’ve four new plays opening next year. Carmen Disruption at the Almeida in London; Song from Farway by Toneelgroep Amsterdam opens in Sao Paulo; a play called Heisenberg opens in new York and then a version of Ödön von Horváth’s Karsimirand Karoline, that I’ve called The Funfair will open the new Home Theatre in Manchester.
· Do you have particular connections with any of the venues Curious is touring to?
Well I was bought up in Stockport, not far from Salford. I went to University at York between 1989 and 1992 and my Mum and her side of our family is from Belfast.
· I understand you were a teacher. How did that inform your writing and how did you make the leap from teaching to become a playwright?
I think both writing and teaching operate from the same optimism. The writer and the teacher work from the assumption that they can make the world better and they can change people. I loved teaching and the kids I taught continue to live with me in my imagination and inspire my work. I never stopped writing while I was teaching and after a while Ian Rickson at the Royal Court Theare read my plays and asked me to be his resident dramatist. On the 1st january 2000 I started as Resident Dramatist at the Royal Court. I still see some of the teachers I worked with and occasionally some of the kids I taught.
· Who was your favourite teacher and how have they influenced your life?
A teacher called James Siddely taught me A level general studies. He was the first person I ever told that I wanted to be a writer and he encouraged me without reservation. Late in his life he came to see several of my plays in Manchester and we would have lunch. That was very special. He remains an inspiring presence in my work.
The National Theatre’s Production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is touring around the UK and Ireland from 18 December to 2014 – 7 November 2015.
It continues to run at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End, and at the Barrymore Theater in New York.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Were you a fan of Mark Haddon’s book before you started working on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time?
Yes I was a real fan of the book. I read it when it first came out and absolutely loved it. I never thought in a million years that it would be adapted for the stage. In fact I thought it was a book you couldn’t really adapt.
How did you feel when you got the script from Simon Stephens?
Simon asked me to read a script that he’d spent some time on as a favour. I realised it was an adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. I had absolutely no expectation and thought it’s really impossible to adapt. I had no idea that he was asking me to direct it, although he’s just told me recently that it was his secret plan. It was quite good actually because I read it with an open mind. I wasn’t worried about how I was going to stage it or thinking ‘is this ever going to work?’ You often read scripts you think you’re going to direct and think what on earth is going to happen? I saw it as a film at first. I read it a couple of times and I knew I loved it. I thought it was very visceral and incredibly emotional. I had no idea how you’d do it, absolutely none. At that time there wasn’t much help in the stage directions for things like Christopher’s journey London. I just thought it’s an amazing story and he’s found a way to make it work, with lots of voices rather than just Christopher.
So how did you choose the creative team for the show?
In a very early draft Simon wrote something like ‘maybe at one point Christopher goes bonkers and dances all over the place – maybe we can involve Frantic’. I knew physical theatre company Frantic Assembly’s work and I really liked them, and I had always wanted to work with them. So I jumped at the chance to work with them early on in the process. I knew that there were a lot of parts of the play that needed to be staged imaginatively with the actors on the stage as opposed to great bits of scenery. I knew their help would be incredibly useful. I’d worked with the stage designer Bunny Christie before and I’d worked with lighting designer Paule Constable before, as well as composer Adrian Sutton (the latter two on War Horse). I hadn’t worked with video designer Finn Ross before – he was recommended.
How did you come up with the idea that the whole stage was Christopher’s mind?
That was a long, long process. For a long time, we were going along the route of it being a play within a play and if it was that, who are the performers? Are they his teachers? Are they his school friends? If they’re his teachers – where are they doing the play? Then we thought it could be in a school hall. So the play was going to be set in a school hall for a really long time. Eventually through lots of conversations, lots of meetings and lots of playing with the model box Bunny said she thought it should be more magical than that. I was really keen that it shouldn’t be too high tech; that it wasn’t some great big illusion; that it had to look like it was all created by people on stage – humans making the story. But between us we eventually came to a happy place that it should be his brain and that it should be a box, and that in the box there are lots of magic tricks. But the magic tricks aren’t down to incredible moving digital scenery, it’s to do with seeing how the humans create the magic.
Can you describe the journey from workshops, to the National Theatre’s Cottlesloe Theatre, to the West End, to Broadway,to this tour.
Simon had always thought that if he were to adapt he should adapt it so that the poorest drama group could do it in an afternoon. He never wanted it to just be the property of the National Theatre, so that if you had money you could afford to do it. He purposefully doubled up the characters, he purposefully never wrote anything to do with stage trickery. He just writes what they say to each other and the story is carried through that.
When we were in the workshop we were then exploring how we to do the journey to London, how would we do things like Christopher’s routine going into his house every day and make it like a physical journey that the audience would recognise, without having to use the keys and the doormat and the door and the coat hook and all of that.
Once we discovered we could do that very simply without any props and then we worked out that we could do the journey to London in the workshop. We came up with some terrible ideas but only the good ones stuck. When we realised we could do a very populated Paddington station with only eight actors we knew we had a show, and it helped Bunny and I work intensely on the model of the set. We storyboarded every single scene. We had the model and the little figurines for every scene and worked out what each scene looked like.
When Frantic Assembly came in they filled out all the dots and made it beautiful basically.
Originally it was in the round because I instinctively felt that the audience were part of him and the best way to experience theatre in that way and to be part of the action is to be in the round. If you’re surrounding it – the central fugal force makes your focus very central – you’re aware that you’re part of the community experience- you’re together and that the actors come through the audience.
I didn’t want there to be any logic to a particular part of the stage being the school and another part of the stage being the home. I wanted to keep changing the logic because Christopher does. Christopher decides he wants to tell you a story about four red cars in a row regardless of where he is in the narrative- he doesn’t care about chronology either in the adaptation. I wanted it to be all over the place, I didn’t want you to rely on anything particularly physical or tangible, just on the actors.
When we went in to the West End we couldn’t find a space which could hold us in the round. Bunny and I thought long and hard about whether we could do it. We thought actually if this space is his brain and it’s a box and there are lots of boxes on stage, why don’t we make it a proper box- with walls and sides – and then we can flip the logic of what is the floor and what is the ceiling.
Sometimes, when he is feeling disorientated, he walks along the walls. When we found that it worked really well in a proscenium arch and the projections looked even better, we then had the confidence to take it to Broadway. Now this will be a new figuration because it’s behind proscenium arch – it will be really interesting to see what the relationship with the audience is with Christopher behind a picture frame
Do you think the role of Christopher is a challenging one to play for the actor?
It’s a really, really difficult role and difficult to cast actually because he has to be young but, inevitably, young usually means inexperienced and the actor has to be on stage the whole time. He has to drive every scene and he’s always the focal point. There are a lot of words to say and on top of that he has to understand what it is to be this kid. He has to understand what it is to feel emotions and to feel them very intensely but not be able to identify or channel or articulate them. He’s got to be highly traumatised on the journey to London and he’s got to be quite obstreperous as a character but yet you’ve got to like him. He’s got to be really very adept physically. High demands on all levels and therefore a very difficult part to play.
That’s why there are two Christophers – it’s too physically demanding to do 8 shows a week because it is such an incredibly demanding role.
How do you think Joshua and Chris will deal with being Christopher on tour
Touring is more demanding than being in one venue. You’re away from your comforts, you’re travelling every week from one place to another, and you’re getting to know a whole new stage and a whole new audience, a whole new dynamic- so even more demanding!
How do you feel about the play opening in Salford?
I feel very protective of it. I’m really excited it’s going to Salford first and I really, really want it to be good for my home town. A lot of people I grew up with will see it there. It’s also a really beautiful theatre so I hope it will fit in well and the actors will be ready for it there and it will look as good as it can possible look, because it’s really important that people who see it there believe in it as a piece of theatre.
Can you tell me about your background with Simon Stephens?
We were both brought up in Stockport. We knew that we went to schools on the opposite sides of the road. He went to Stockport School and I went to Stockport Grammar School and we were a few years apart. He’s about four years younger than me. We knew that we had lived quite near to each other in Stockport but recently when we were doing interviews for Simons’s play Port (we’ve done lots of shows together) we were being interviewed by a journalist and he asked me how I used to get to school. We knew our schools were quite a way away from where we lived and I said ‘Oh I used to get the 197’ and he said ‘where did you get it from’ and I said ‘the bus stop at the end of the golf course’ and he said ‘so did I’ then he said ‘oh my god, I remember you’. So, we literally lived three streets away from each other.
It doesn’t feel weird at all that we’re working together so closely now because a lot of it feels so right and we have familiarity. Often Northerners in London migrate towards each other – certainly there’s an understanding. Our upbringings were very different but we did go to similar primary schools, in fact I nearly went to his primary school. Now we have a kind of shorthand.
Did you have any inspiring teachers?
I was really lucky. I had lots of teachers who influenced me. I remember one teacher- Mrs Shankland. I must’ve been about six and I’ll never forget her. She was really inspirational and very encouraging – I felt for the first time someone thought ‘Oh Marianne you can do it’. Then I went to a great school in Audley Edge, then I went to Stockport Grammar and I had a great art teacher whose philosophy was ‘everybody can do art, you don’t have to be born with a talent’ which is a really inspiring thing. There was also a fantastic English teacher who really believed in me. I suppose the thing about teachers is that I remember the ones who encouraged me and thought they saw something in me that had potential. The teachers who don’t see that, you forget. You think that they forget you. That’s what happens with Siobhan in the play. Siobhan’s sees sides of Christopher that nobody else does, and that’s what makes him blossom. He then starts to depend and rely on her, perhaps a little too much.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has received many awards and plaudits, and has played to almost half a million people world-wide. What do you think it is about the play that resonates with audiences?
Lots of people relate to having a really inspirational teacher who, amongst the midst of disappointment that every other adult gives you, can see potential in a child. Also, it’s about parenting and about families – parents who are flawed but desperately trying to do their best. They’re really trying to put Christopher first in everything, they just get it wrong. It’s also about Christopher – he’s highly vulnerable and highly limited in some ways yet manages to triumph and succeed in a way that’s beyond even his dreams.
Mark Haddon has always said it’s about difference, it’s not about a boy with autism. Is that how the play portrays Christopher?
The thing about the play and the book is that we try to get the audience to see things through Christopher’s eyes most of the time. They don’t see him as ‘other’. They see him as themselves. But the play also deals with dramatic irony as well and you’re ahead of the game. You’re worried about him jumping into the train tracks and trying to save his rat, for example. You’re aware, just before he is, that something is slightly off in the story about his mum. But most of the time, we hope you experience things in the way Christopher does. You get the impression of what its like to be in a busy Paddington station or on the tube.
Do you have a personal connection with any of the venues the show is touring to?
I went to university in Hull.
Are there any parallels between War Horse, which you co-directed and Curious?
There’s a parallel in that they are both stories about triumphing in the face of adversity. Both have a young boy in the central role. Both are about the rites of passage and growing up. The staging of both shows doesn’t rely on theatrical trickery or illusion, with the actors creating the story in front of an audience.
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