BOASTING plays from Conor McPherson, Enda Walsh and Brian Friel, the Dublin Theatre Festival will assume control of the capital’s stages for the next fortnight or so.
One of the highlights is the Irish premiere of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the adaptation of Mark Haddon’s popular 2003 novel, which arrives in Dublin fresh from winning a slew of Tony Awards on Broadway earlier this year.
The production — which has won gongs galore since its debut at the National Theatre in London in 2012 — is based on a script by Simon Stephens, one of the most acclaimed names in contemporary British drama, best known for plays such as Motorland and SeaWall.
Stephens met Haddon while both were serving as writers-in-residence at the National Theatre in 2006.
Before long, Haddon had entrusted to Stephens the task of adapting his hit novel.
As in the novel, the play centres on Christopher Boone, a boy with an Asperger’s syndrome-like condition, who sets out to discover the reasons for the mysterious killing of a neighbour’s dog.
He does so while coping with a range of anxieties which include a dread of physical contact and the sight of the colour yellow. Gradually, his sleuthing opens up a can of worms that very deeply concerns himself and his family.
One of the key themes in Curious Incident is the role that narrative plays in the lives of human beings. Due to Christopher’s condition, any break in his routine is distressing and baffling for the young protagonist, and, in effect, the plot follow his attempts to keep track of a narrative that keeps shifting on him, and to piece and re-piece that narrative together in a way that makes him feel comfortable.
In this regard, as Stephens points out, Christopher represents all of us, and the struggle that we each of us face in negotiating the stories of our own lives.
“Christopher’s daily life has to be a defined and regular narrative,” says the playwright. “He can’t make sense of a life in which that narrative is broken. Like a lot of us — although, in his case it’s to an extreme degree — his life is dominated by the comfort of routine and familiarity. And he gets really upset if things interrupt that routine. But his life is also a negotiation of the fact that those routines are constantly interrupted.”
As Stephens notes, the audience also recognises themselves in Christopher in other ways. “I always joke that empathy is a right fucker and that what all of us really wish is that we could be less empathetic. Christopher has no empathy and deep down we go, ‘God, that must be great!’”
"Did you see anything suspicious on Thursday evening?" pic.twitter.com/cJqHOPBHq8— Curious on Stage (@curiousonstage) September 22, 2015
The plot of Curious Incident is also in part a study of the nature of family and, significantly, that’s a theme that recurs in Stephens’s plays. Indeed, the writer himself confides that becoming a parent in the late 1990s ultimately made him “an infinitely, infinitely better writer.”
By a nice coincidence, it was on the very day that his first child was born in 1998 that the Royal Court phoned Stephens to confirm that they were going to give him his first professional production, commissioning his breakthrough play Bluebird.
“So there’s an inextricable link between me as a parent and me as a writer,” he says.
Like writers, he says, parents tell stories and produce narratives for their children to make sense of the world.
“Human beings have always told stories to each other in order to make sense of the things that we’re afraid of,” he says. “Stories calm us down. It’s why we read stories to our children at night, because the notion that concluding the day with a narrative that ends is the best way to go to sleep.
“So, when we make those stories, we excavate from our uncertainties and our fears.”
Warming to the theme, he continues: “Oliver Sacks said that creativity, like nostalgia, comes from a yearning to complete experiences that are interrupted, or to heal things that were broken.
“And I love the analogy between creativity and nostalgia. I think that’s really gorgeous. If that’s true, then there is an innate nostalgia and an innate heartbreak to the process of raising children that leads you to want to tell stories.
“Because more than anything you want to hold your children, to keep them and to protect them, but the defining essence of that relationship is that you can’t.”
As ever, with Stephens’s plays, then, what The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is at the core concerned with is the curious incidence of our own humanity.
Dublin Theatre Festival Highlights
New plays from Conor McPherson have been thin on the ground in recent years, so the Irish premiere of his latest work is very welcome.
French theatre-maker Halory Goerger returns to the festival after his previous collaboration, Germinal, stunned audiences with the scale of its imagination and madcap comic stylings. This piece – which centres on artists floating in a space station with the sole task of creating a play – promises to be just as much fun.
Recently a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe, Enda Walsh and Donncha Dennehy’s opera centres on a low-grade hotel where guests check in to execute very grim plans. Well, it is Enda Walsh, after all.
Having produced hilarious musical theatre in Impossible Frequency and Peer Gynt, Irish company Rough Magic return with a comedy musical based upon the infamous ‘condom train’ that saw members of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement travel to Belfast in 1971 to purchase contraceptives and then bring them back to the Republic, where such things were still banned. Penned by the reliably brilliant Arthur Riordan, it should be a proper hoot.
Having produced one of the most provocative theatre pieces of recent years in Lippy, much will be expected of this new work from Dead Centre which centres on an unproduced and perhaps unproducable play by Russian master, Anton Chekhov.