National Theatre adapts Mark Haddon's Curious Incident

Luke Treadaway in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The main character Christopher (Luke Treadaway, left) has a form of autism

The National Theatre has produced the first stage adaptation of Mark Haddon's best-selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

A mysterious tale of a murdered dog, narrated by an introspective 15-year-old maths genius with a form of autism, the 2003 book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is not exactly an easy sell to theatre audiences.

Yet the book's author Mark Haddon says the book has been ripe for adaptation for some time.

"About two and a half years ago, we realised that we were getting a lot of requests for stage adaptations including, bizarrely, musical adaptations of the book.

"Some seemed to work, some were obviously rubbish and some were just fishing. We realised we were in a position to sit down and see who would we like to do it."

So, Haddon handed over his book, which won the Whitbread Book of the Year, to Simon Stephens - a rising star of British theatre who has tackled difficult subjects like sex trafficking in Three Kingdoms and a high-school massacre used to question society's drive for academic success in Punk Rock.

"Simon says he fell in love with the book and you can't adapt a book unless you really love it," says Haddon. "One of Simon's great hopes is that whatever else people take away from it they will realise that he and the cast are in love with the book."

Stephens brought on board Marianne Elliott, director of the National's multi-award winning adaptation of War Horse.

Luke Treadaway, who - alongside twin brother Harry is one of the UK's most exciting young actors - takes on the central role of Christopher Boone with Spooks actress Nicola Walker as mum Judy and Paul Ritter as his father Ed.

The cast also includes veteran actress Una Stubbs as Christopher's elderly neighbour Mrs Alexander and Niamh Cusack as his teacher.

The sparse set, by renowned designer Bunny Christie, takes on its own character in the play. Seemingly a series of simple geometric squares, it pulses with energy, boosted by lighting and projections of numbers and stars, reflecting Christopher's fascination with mathematics and order.

Physical theatre company Frantic Assembly worked on the choreography of several key scenes.

Early reviews of the adaptation have been positive - in the Guardian, Michael Billington said: "Though I found myself resisting occasional touches of self-conscious cuteness and sentimentality in Marianne Elliott's production, I readily acknowledge the whole thing is done with enormous flair."

The Stage, meanwhile, praised Luke Treadaway's "bravura performance as Christopher, encapsulating everything about the character, from the awkward body language to the many monologues about maths and the solar system which turn out to be amusing and fascinating at the same time".

Luke Treadaway in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The set takes on a personality of its own at the Cottesloe theatre

Haddon unsurprisingly agrees that writer Stephens has managed to add new dimensions to the story of a young boy who - on discovering his neighbour's dead dog - embarks on an investigation to find its killer only to make even more profound discoveries about his fractured family.

"The best adaptations aren't slavish are they?" he says. "I think people who come to see this will be really quite surprised - a lot of it is a celebration of theatre.

"There are exciting things going on on stage which I could never heave dreamed of if i was doing the adaptation myself."

Taking the role of a 15-year-old was a daunting prospect for the 27-year-old Treadaway - who having already worked alongside director Elliott in War Horse - was so desperate to work with Stephens that he thought he'd be "shaving upwards everyday".

On researching the character of Christopher, Treadaway says: "I went to about four or five different schools for children with autism and spent a day at each one learning the differences but also the similarities between them.

"I realised Christopher is his own person and approached that like any other character, not playing him with autism but working out his behaviour and why he does what he does."

Since its publication, the book has become part of the school curriculum. Playing Christopher's mum is Spooks actress Nicola Walker. She says: "We've been getting a really good mix of people, some very young people actually.

"It's completely up to their parents but I wanted to run over and shield them at times because it's messy and it's verbally violent and physically abusive at times, but the age range is really refreshing."

On 6 September, the play will be broadcast live to more than 160 cinemas in the UK and 350 worldwide as part of National Theatre Live - which saw Danny Boyle's Frankenstein broadcast live in 2011.

"The thought of it makes me want to throw up," admits Walker. "I was in the front row of my cinema for Frankenstein and it was terrifying.

"The first 15 minutes, there was a lot of nudity and I hid because I was bashful. I know one of the actors a little bit and thought, 'I shouldn't know what he looks like completely naked."

A film adaptation of Curious Incident could soon be on the cards, thanks to Hollywood star Brad Pitt - whose production company Plan B owns the film rights to the book. Steve Kloves, whose film The Wonder Boys was Oscar-nominated, is being tipped to direct.

"If they got Simon to adapt it, then yeah, I think they should do it, it has a chance," says Treadaway. "I reckon that now this is up and done you could make a beautiful film out of it."

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is on at London's National Theatre until 27 October.

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