Reviews: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh; The Venetian Twins – Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Friday 1 May 2015

Curious Incident: Four Stars

The Venetian Twins: Four Stars

Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was a remarkable coming-of-age story told from the perspective of a teenage boy with Asperger’s syndrome. The stage adaptation goes one better, finding more inventive ways to immerse its audience in the heightened point of view of Christopher Boone, the 15-year-old who is great with numbers but not so accomplished with people.

Directed by Marianne Elliott for the National Theatre, the production marries story and spectacle in way that rivals the same director’s War Horse. Simon Stephens, who adapted the work into a play, employs a range of techniques to open out Haddon’s tale of the youth who sets out to investigate the murder of his next-door neighbour’s dog. These include sharing out Christopher’s first-person narrative with supporting characters and amplifying moments of intense emotion with passages of movement created by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett of Frantic Assembly.

It is as our hero makes his way from Swindon to London that Elliott submerges us in Christopher’s bewildering world view. These scenes make good use of Bunny Christie’s deceptively simple set design, a black cube onto which numbers and images are projected, which also doubles as Christopher’s beloved train set.

There are weaknesses. Elliott and Stephens walk a fine line between emotional clarity and sentimentality, and only narrowly avoid patronising some of the supporting characters. The piece gains its power from its protagonist’s unique, off-centre perspective, realised by Chris Ashby and Joshua Jenkins in the lead role.

The National Theatre scored a monster hit a few years back with One Man, Two Guvnors — Richard Bean’s adaptation of an 18th-century farce by Carlo Goldoni. Based on another of the Italian’s wonderfully silly comedies, the Royal Lyceum’s new version of The Venetian Twins, though set in a pastel-coloured late 19th century Verona, brings a distinctly Scottish flavour to the play’s mistaken identity and messy consequences.

Grant O’Rourke gives a dynamic performance as the twins Zanetto and Tonino, separated years earlier, whose arrival in Verona causes chaos. The actor, who switches effortlessly throughout, forms the linchpin of a fine ensemble of farceurs, who make light work of the bawdy innuendos.

With its bright, cartoonish set (courtesy of Neil Murray), topical asides and regular breach of the fourth wall, Tony Cownie’s production owes as much of a debt to the traditional Scottish pantomime as it does to classic commedia dell’arte. Although the pace falters a little in the final scene, on the whole it’s hard not to get caught up in the production’s artful mayhem.

Box office: 0131-529 6000, to May 9 (Curious Incident); The Venetian Twins runs to May 16 (0131-248 4848)

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