Introducing Christopher Boone
As with any experience, it’s best to enter into Curious Incident with an open mind. While many critics and viewers have felt that Christopher exhibits traits of autism spectrum disorder, the creators encourage you to refrain from using labels while watching or thinking about the play. Original author Mark Haddon even says that Christopher Boone is simply “a mathematician with some behavioral difficulties.” “If anything,” Haddon says, “it’s a [story] about difference, about being an outsider…” Pretty much everyone can identify with the feeling of being on the outside or of finding the world a frustrating yet exciting place to live. When you meet Christopher, you’ll probably to be able to relate to more of his thoughts and emotions than you would expect.
Christopher Boone, a British teenager
Siobhan (pronounced “shuh-VAUGHN”), his teacher
Ed, his father
Judy, his mother
Mrs. Shears, his neighbor
Mr. Shears, her ex-husband
plus, other neighbors, policemen, train ticket tellers, Swindoners (see below) and Londoners
British Phrase Book
Curious Incident takes place in the UK cities of Swindon and London. There will most likely be a few terms and phrases you may not have heard before. Here’s a quick guide to some of them:
An advanced educational exam for high-school aged students, much like the SATs. A good grade, such as an A*, can be a big help to students when applying for university.
The underground subway in London.
Slang term for the British pound.
So, What's Going On?
In many ways, Christopher John Francis Boone is your average teenage boy. He plays video games, studies for his exams, hangs out in front of the TV… the usual. But Christopher is also just a little bit unique. Case in point: He finds people and human interactions confusing, he’s uncommonly good at math (he’s even prepping for an SAT-like test a few years ahead of schedule), and he doesn’t like being touched. At all.
But here’s something even more curious than Christopher’s social anxieties: Late one night, Christopher goes to say “hi” to his neighbor Mrs. Shears’s dog, Wellington, and discovers the animal lying on its side…dead. With a pitchfork stuck in it. Horrifying. And weird, right? Who would do such a thing?
That’s exactly what Christopher wants to know.
Our hero, who’s a whiz at problem-solving, starts to show interest in who killed Wellington, but his father, Ed, gets in the way. The whole incident has seriously worried Christopher’s single dad—Christopher’s mother, Judy, is dead—and Ed firmly tells Christopher to drop the whole thing. But Christopher doesn’t want to let it go. Instead, he decides to make like his favorite literary detective, Sherlock Holmes, and do a little digging. Despite his concerns about talking to people directly, he goes up and down his block asking questions…picking up some interesting info about his own family history along the way. He even starts writing a book about his discoveries and eventually shares it with his teacher, Siobhan. Christopher seems well on his way to cracking the case—that is, until his dad finds out, insists the investigation is over, and angrily takes the book away.
Still, Christopher doesn’t give up. When his dad goes off to work, Christopher sneaks around the house looking to reclaim the book and reopen the mystery. But he gets distracted when, snooping around in his father’s closet, he finds a letter in his mother’s handwriting…with a recent postdate. Opening the letter, Christopher begins to unravel a terrible truth: His mother isn’t dead and his father has been lying to him for years.
Confused and frightened by this discovery, Christopher collapses just as Ed arrives on the scene and realizes what’s happened. Exhausted and emotional, Ed confesses that Christopher’s mother is alive and well and living with Mr. Shears (Mrs. Shears’s ex) in London. He also admits to killing Wellington after a nasty fight with Mrs. Shears. These shocking revelations send Christopher’s head spinning. No longer able to trust his father, he decides to make a break for it and journey to London to find his mom.
One problem, though. Christopher’s never been away from home by himself. With no one he can really turn to and with very little experience in the real world, he’ll have to use his own brilliant logic and clever analytical skills to help him find his long-lost mother. Along with that, he’ll have to interact with people. Lots and lots of people.
Will he get to London in one piece? And, if he does, is there any way his fractured family can somehow be put back together?
Check This Out...
Curious Incident is designed to feel as though the audience is looking at the world through Christopher’s eyes and experiencing the story as its filtered through his extremely intelligent, uncannily logical brain. Christopher is in every scene of the play and his imagination drives all of the action that you’ll see on stage. In fact, the story is told from Christopher’s point of view so completely that he sometimes takes on the role of director, with the actor playing Christopher stopping certain scenes, offering notes, and making casting changes so that things are more “accurate” according to Christopher’s memory.
Keeping all of this in mind, check out:
- How the actors use choreography to indicate changes of scenery, time-jumps to the past, or shifts in perspective, like when Christopher imagines he’s floating through the air like an astronaut
- How the actress playing Siobhan and other ensemble actors sometimes assume Christopher’s “voice” and narrate for him, especially when he contemplates big or important questions
- How the music that underscores the action often seems to reflect Christopher’s feelings and mood (for example, the music when his mother appears in his memory is soft and sweet while the music that plays when he describes what he can see on the train gets loud and intense)
- The projections of numbers and mathematical equations that fly across the stage. Why do you think these are used in certain scenes and not in others? Do you notice a pattern as to when they appear and when they don’t?
- How sound effects, drawings, lighting, projections, and dance movements are used to show how Christopher processes information (hint: sometimes sounds will be muffled if Christopher is having trouble hearing, and the action will occasionally slow down if Christopher is feeling overwhelmed)
Think About This...
- The way certain characters react to Christopher when they first meet him. Do these interactions remind you of other scenes in books, movies, or TV? Have you seen similar confrontations in real life? If so, what did you do?
- Christopher’s confusion about language. Do you think metaphors and figures of speech are good ways to communicate? Do you prefer straightforward or poetic language? Why?
- Christopher’s final question to Siobhan before the curtain call is left unanswered. Why do you think this is? How would you answer the question for Christopher? How would you answer it for yourself?
Take Action: Challenge Yourself
Movement director Steven Hoggett feels that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a lot like an epic odyssey (think Homer and his long heroic poems) in that the story follows Christopher on a complicated quest and forces him to do things he never thought of doing before. When was the last time you did something slightly scary or unfamiliar? Try challenging yourself to take part in a new community activity or go to a new place that puts you a little out of your comfort zone. Sit with someone you’ve never spoken to before at lunch and strike up a conversation. Visit a nursing home. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Create your own personal odyssey. Afterward, capture your feelings in a small video, journal entry, poem, painting, or other media format. Share with your friends and family or post to social media (Tumblr, Snapchat, Facebook, you name it…) and see if your journey inspires others to do something similar.
If you opt to post on social media use the hashtag #staycurious.
N00b Guide to Theatre
New to theater? Then this guide is for you.
(If you’re already a fan of theater, skip this and move on to the next section.)
First timer? Not really a fan of live make-believe? You’re not alone. In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Christopher even says: “I don’t like acting because it’s pretending something is real when it is not really real at all, so it is like a kind of lie.”
And he’s not really wrong. At its heart, theater, which developed out of prehistoric rituals and ancient Greek festivals, is the act of pretending using movement, speech, costume, and sets in order to tell a story. But what Christopher forgets—and what his teacher, Siobhan, reminds him—is that “some people find things which are kind of true in things which are made up.” And you totally knew that already. Odds are, many of the stories that have moved you or reminded you of yourself or of someone you know have been complete and total fabrications. With theater, that’s kind of the point.
Theater invites you to read between the lines and uncover the “real” inside the “unreal.” It also provides audiences with a kind of mirror through which they can reflect on what it means to be alive, or perhaps a doorway through which they can imagine how certain experiences might feel, even if these experiences are “made up” or faked.
The results can almost seem like magic. When you take your seat at the theater, you may find yourself laughing along with the characters’ joys or crying along with their sorrows…or you may be inspired to protest an injustice or enact social change. Once the lights go out and the curtain comes up, anything is possible.
Want to learn more about theater and what it can do? Check out this link:
TED Talk: What Is Theater Capable Of?
A brief video about the fundamentals of theater and how it looks, sounds, and feels.
Or visit our Related Resources (to the right of this page)
Nerd Guide to Theater
(If you’ve never seen a play before, skip this for now.)
Calling all theater geeks!
When you’re learning about a play in class and the teacher asks for volunteers to read aloud, does your hand shoot up? If so, you may be a theater nerd. Go ahead, admit it. Own it. If you love theater, you’re in some excellent company.
Looking to learn more about the world of theater? Maybe take your first steps toward a career on stage or in the wings? Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Watch, read, listen. Go to as many live theatrical events as you can. Your town probably has a community theater company or two—check them out. Also, get to know some of the classics by reading a few plays. Shakespeare, Henrik Ibsen, and Anton Chekhov are good guys to know. Hungry for more? Look up online theater forums like Playbill.com, and BroadwayWorld.com, and listen to what people working on today’s stages have to say about their careers.
- Take a class or join a club. See if your school offers drama classes and try to absorb as much about the crafts of writing, acting, directing, designing, and stage-managing. Better yet, sign up for the class play. If you don’t want to be in front of the footlights, you can always work behind the scenes. Remember those community theater companies we mentioned above? Yeah, they could use your help, too. Theater doesn’t have happen on Broadway or in a big auditorium for it to mean something or make an impact. Get out there and get started.
- Hit social media. Many of today’s trending playwrights, actors, and directors have social media accounts full of news, advice, and motivational material. Same goes for theater companies and performing arts centers. Follow them for info about their upcoming projects or to gain a little inspiration.
- Look ahead. Ready for next steps? Start looking into colleges with theater training programs. When you go to visit, see one of their shows and see if you like what they do. Having a strong background in theatrical technique will be a huge help going forward if you want to make a life in the theater.
In the meantime, check out summer programs for teens in your area. Most of the theaters in your community offer a variety of theater classes. And if you live in the Washington D.C. area, look into these specific programs:
The Theater Lab
A challenging four-week acting conservatory for ages 13-19.
The Shakespeare Theatre
The Bard wants you!
Or visit our Related Resource (to the right of this page)
Parents and Teachers: We've Got You Covered
Hey there, adults. Never read or seen Curious Incident? Slightly confused by the incredibly long title? We hear you. Don’t worry, here’s an overview of the award-winning play and its critically acclaimed source material to prepare you for after-show discussions with your kids:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time began life in 2003 as a novel by author Mark Haddon. Okay, technically the title originally came from a line in a Sherlock Holmes mystery, but you know what we mean. Haddon had at one time worked with people on the autistic spectrum and perhaps used those experiences as a starting point when creating his reluctant hero, Christopher Boone. The story—which tackled issues such as love, fear, trust, and personal growth as told from the perspective of an introverted and detail-oriented teen—was a national success. Five years after its publication, Haddon struck up a friendship with playwright and play adapter Simon Stephens… and light bulbs went off. A single email from Haddon to Stephens put the idea of a theatrical project in motion, and Marianne Elliot (director of London and Broadway’s War Horse) was quickly brought on board to helm the play.
Despite the many challenges of transferring Curious Incident onto the stage, the creators were able to use a combination of ancient (think Greek choruses and stylized movement) and cutting edge (think lighting and electronic music) techniques to bring the story to life. The play debuted at London’s National Theatre and was then brought to the US, where it won the 2015 Tony® Award for Best Play.
Okay, you’re officially ready for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.