Adapting of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time”

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A popular novella The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon has been adapted into a play written by Simon Stephens. Throughout the process of adapting this novel into a stage play many changes were forced to be made that I believe highlights some of the fundamental differences in the art form of a novel and theater while also giving us an insight on how Stephens added changes to make his adaptation more personal and engaging to a theater audience. This action of reformatting works as a way to spread the same meanings that the novel held and expands upon them delivering it a new way to a different audience.

When altering a piece of artwork to another form such as in this case from novel to play there is a challenge to help capture the same beats that are present in the original work. Stephens acknowledges this particular challenge to change a novel to the play,

“…novelist can deal with the consideration of what human beings think, feel, remember or observe. The playwright doesn’t deal with those things, or if the playwright does deal with those characteristics or those elements of human identity, they’ll release them through the things that people do.”(Curious Incident, 2018)

To not recognize the artistic style differences when adapting artforms would only look to hinder his own work and it is refreshing to see Stephens recognize this issue. Linda Hutcheon introduced in her book A theory of adaptation, that “In adapting, the story-argument goes, “equivalences” are sought in different sign systems for the various elements of the story: its themes, events, world, characters, motivations, points of view, consequences, context, symbols, imagery and so on.” (Hutcheon, 2006) Stephens focuses in on creating the same events as he mentions in his interview describing his process of transcribing the work “the first thing that I did was I went through the book and wrote out a list of all the things that Christopher did, trying to distinguish behavior from thought or observation.” “then the second thing I did was I transcribed his direct speech.”

An easy to go to criticism of any adaptations is a critique of certain events not happening or occurring in a different order. Everyone is familiar with a person who watches a film adaptation of some media then immediately after leaving the theater proceeds to explain how the film product is lesser because of certain changes from the source material. In some cases this can be a valid criticism as changing events can dramatically alter a story however Stephens makes it his mission to follow the actual events and dialogues that transpire between the characters within the novel to help discourage this criticism. It is important for the original text and the source to hit similar beats and an adaptations first goal should be equivalence then from that it gives this adaptor a springboard to give it a certain uniqueness that represents a strong point of the particular artform.

In order to achieve this uniqueness there were many expansions of how character are can be implemented in greater and a more in-depth scale than what novel may get away with. Throughout many times in the script we see there is more expansion on how characters may react to Christopher giving them more character development. In the novel most of everything comes from the mind of Christopher, we get to see how he feels about things and we are given footnotes that we wrote by Christopher that helps gives us a better understanding of what is going on in his mind and how things are interpreted by him exclusively.

In the theater space tactics like footnotes are unavailable and Stephen recognizes this and puts a heavier emphasis on increasing depth of other characters in his adaptation. Christopher still remains an integral character and remains to have the main focus but as Stephen’s mentions “Yeah that’s what [Mark Haddon] says all the time. I think it’s a book about difference, I think it’s a play about family actually.” (Stephens, Elliot and Sharp, 2014)

In recognition of this many of the scenes in the book that were used as a look into Christopher’s thoughts is now used in a way to expand on the relationship of other people. In particular in the novel there is a part dedicated to Christopher describing the Milky Way as he is being driven to the police station. This rather random thought is particularly powerful as we get a look into his mind in this hostile situation and how he copes with it (pg 11-13) . Similarly this event happens in the play when Christopher’s father, Ed, sees him for the first time after being arrested and after sharing a physical touch which Christopher is very personal with, the first thing that Christopher speaks to him is about seeing the Milky Way, to which his father listens to him (Part 1) .

In both situation Christopher was looking for comfort that he found in thinking about the Milky Way and gives us a better understanding of Christopher’s mind setting that level equivalence. Then even further in the play we are shown how comfortable Christopher is with his father by sharing his way of coping and then even further beyond that we have Ed’s sympathetic feeling towards Christopher that gets established. We see here the implementation of the movement and physical reactions that would normally not be viable in a novel as it is in a theater and gives it an interesting way of expanding on the world of Curious Incident.

One of the massive changes within the show had Siobhan taking a more featured role. As referenced prior, Stephens mentioned prior a big challenge was having the actors act out and show Christopher’s actions as a representation of what he thinks or observes rather than just telling us what he think which a novel can do. Stephens changes the role of Siobhan as a harbinger of Christopher’s’ thought in the play to help build a bridge from Christopher’s thoughts to the audience. Trough Siobhan there is a new level of connectedness that we feel towards Siobhan as we now see how much Christopher trusts her and still gives us a tool to understand how Christopher’s mind works. Some influences I think were drawn upon the use of Greek Chorus’ as Siobhan is giving us information that we normally would not be away of and add a spectacle element to it. In this case her primary goal is to get the audience to emotionally empathies with Christopher and heightens the importance of her. Certain scenes such as while Christopher is being arrested has Siobhan read out a passage from Christopher’s book

SIOBHAN: I find people confusing. This is for two main reasons. The first main reason is that people do a lot of talking without using any words. Siobhan says that if you raise one eyebrow it can mean lots of different things. It can mean, ‘I want to do sex with you.’ I never said that.

CHRISTOPHER: Yes you did.

SIOBHAN: I didn’t use those words Christopher.

Christopher You did on 12 September last year. At first break.

SIOBHAN And it can also mean, ‘I think that what you just said was very stupid.

This small little thought in the book was greatly expanded on in play and really highlights one of the slight shifts in focus Stephen’s took the original text. One of the major elements of the use of this scene is having that explanation of Christopher’s and his ability to remember dates and things told to him. Also its establishes a loving banter relationship between Christopher and Siobhan heightening the relationship between the two furthering the idea of the show being about family relationships. I think that showing this family like love Siobhan has for Christopher is used to explain why she is the person reading Christopher’s book. The act of having Siobhan be the one to read Christopher’s book to the audience does not contradict anything in the book as its mentioned in the novel he still holds her to high regards and trusts her, fitting her well as the role of a translator to the audience. In the novel we are able see Christopher’s thoughts and interpretation but with theater conveying that requires a different tactic. Implementing Siobhan as a modern day Greek Chorus would not normally be viable in a novel and gives it an interesting way of communicating ideas, highlighting a major expansion from the original text and still conveying the same idea.

Stephens elected to alter some of the phrasing of the ending that gives it a chance to give it another interpretation. At the end of the novel Christopher ends by triumphantly stating “ and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything.” (Haddon, 2004) However in the play Christopher is talking to Siobhan and only asks her approval if “Does that mean I can do anything Siobhan? Does that mean I can do anything?” (Haddon, 2012) . This change in endings highlights a particular interest of Stephen’s that I believe was a heavy influence in the change of the source material.

Plenty of Stephen’s works focus in on exploration and the change that transgresses within his characters but often times results negatively for the main character. While talking about Stephens, Gaye Taylor Upchurch, the director for his play Harper Regan, mentions “He described some characteristics of a Euripidean tragedy that he had been drawn to and wanted to explore in his play: a single, ordinary character walks through the world; they are put in some kind of an extraordinary circumstance that forces a response;” (Upchurch, 2018)

By the changing of the ending we have this Euripidean tragedy being able to be introduced as once Christopher’s life changes in the form of finding out that his father had killed Wellington and lied about his mother being dead he is forced into this extraordinary circumstance. His travel and struggle do have the same result in the novel and the book but the different viewpoints of Haddon and Stephens is brought out through their work. The novel gives off this feeling of empowerment at the end after we watch him struggle and finally makes it to London to only have Christopher confirm to himself that he can do anything.

Though Stephens wanting to implement the tragedy element he has Christopher asking Siobhan acting as his thoughts, Only to have Siobhan remain silent potentially giving Christopher the idea that, because he struggled so hard just to change cities he is in fact more limited than he previously thought. However the idea of empowerment is still handled with respects to the original text because in typical Simon Stephens fashion it is not outright said that Christopher is weak so it gives the chance for the original Haddon interpretation to still remain true. In the ending equivalence was reached by allowing the original adaptation but also allowing the audience to explore further from the ending give them the opportunity to branch off into their own interpretations.

A contributing factor to the success of the play as an adaptation was the amount respect that Stephens has for the author of the book, Mark Haddon, and uses that to synergize his work with Haddon’s. In many aspects Stephens and Haddon agree with the idea of allowing the consumer of the media to explore what is given, while talking about his novel Haddon mentions that

It contains huge gaps that readers fill without noticing. Christopher, for example, never says what he looks like, the clothes he wears, the way his hair is cut, whether he is skinny or fat, tall or short. In spite of this most readers have a vivid image of him. And this, I suspect, is one of the many reasons why so many of them feel a peculiar sense of ownership about the book, for when they close the final page they have had an experience which is, to a large extent, of their own making.

The strong sense of exploration that Haddon loves works perfectly with the style of Stephens. In many of Stephens’ works he heavily encourages the exploration of his pieces often allowing many radical changes to occur to his original text. To have the same level of understanding coming between the original and the adapter introduces much more depth to the product and in this particular case with the idea of exploration it gave Stephens more of an opportunity to further incorporate different styles or techniques to his adaptation. Particularly there is a heavy emphasis on movement in the show as the abstract dance form to help convey the abstract idea of Christopher’s thoughts.

While also adding a sense of spectacle to the show, this gives physical ideas to something that is not as Stephen’s says “[Dancing] were an attempt to dramatize that which the novel creates which is absolutely excavating the interior to Christopher’s brain…” This is also continued by encourage the lead actor of Christopher to experiment with new movement gives a more abstract idea to his condition giving more room for the audience to explore and connect with which gives them a sense of ownership of the play like the novel. While working with the movement however there was an element of spectacle that was also created to make the work more engaging to watch and kept the audience in their seats. Bitch ass fuck

When adapting anything there is a mission to give respects to the prior work but there is also the finite goal of making the new medium approachable to audience members and can still make it engaging. Simon Stephens gives great care in minding the audience to make sure there is a level of keeping people sitting in the theater watching the show particularly in an interview with him about his play Pornography he mentions “as a playwright I’m very nervous about audiences getting bored” and continues to explain how he purposely made chapters in the show reverse order partly so the audience would know “it wasn’t going to necessarily continue to chapter 94.” (Stephens, 2008) . There is an element of engagement that is incredibly valuable in any piece of work that Stephens is mindful of and works to his benefit of making the production engaging in a theatrical setting. Although there was work done in order to make Curious Incident fit in a show Stephens could not have simply had someone get onstage and just read out the book.

Reading a book is engaging in its own way as is theater and that caused for some scenes and events in the original text that Stephens felt necessary to remove or alter, such as the scene referenced earlier between Christopher and Ed A tactic used in Curious Incident is constantly moving the plot forward and in the play we see the event changed from halting the story to get better understanding of Christopher into an interaction between two characters and establish a relationship while getting through the actions that are required in a play. This incentive of constantly moving the plot forward in theater helps keep the audience engaged into the story and explores another area where more characters are able to be given more depth.

While considering adapting Curious Incident of the dog in the Night-Time, Simon Stephens really made sure to expand on the depth of some characters that came directly about from fitting the novel in the theater and his own personal influence. Simon Stephens gives great care to Mark Haddon’s novel and results in an adaptation that is faithful to the original text, engaging to audiences, and is still able to present Stephens’ certain style of playwrighting.


Cite this paper

Adapting of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time”. (2021, Oct 31). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/adapting-of-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time/



What do we learn from Christopher's story and perspective?
From Christopher's story and perspective, we learn about his challenges with understanding the world and how he sees the world differently than others.
What is the message in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time?
The novel is about a 15-year-old boy, Christopher, who has autism. The novel is written from Christopher's perspective and explores his challenges with understanding and processing emotions.
Who adapted curious incident for the stage?
Simon Stephens adapted curious incident for the stage. He is a British playwright.
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