The Curious Incident: From Page to Stage
Simon Stephens, writer of the book for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, discusses the process of adapting Mark Haddon’s book for the stage and the journey they have taken…
What inspired you to write The Curious Incident for the Stage?
What inspired me was Mark Haddon, I was on residency at the National Theatre Studio at the same time that Mark Haddon was on residency there. I was spending time meeting other artists, meeting other actors. Mark was there for about 8 weeks getting his head around playwriting, I’d read his book years before meeting him. I wrote a play called Motor Town at the heart of which was a character who could be described as being on the Asperger’s spectrum and I read his book as research for my play. I was always fascinated by it, I was really haunted by it and haunted by the literary technique that Mark employs which is to remove every other character from the constellation of description in Christopher’s voice. Christopher’s not interested in what other people are like and what other people look like or anything like that so he doesn’t pay any attention to them. From reading the book, I found that as a dramatist fascinating, curious, and extraordinary imagining what the other people surrounding him would be like especially what his dad would be like.
I made friends with Mark, we’re men of a similar age, we’ve got similar taste in music, and we’re both parents. I read his plays, I read his attempts to write plays and I gave him some notes on those. I read early drafts of his beautiful play Polar Bear which was produced at the Donmar Warehouse. In March 2008, a couple of years after having met him he rang me at home and asked me if I’d consider adapting The Curious Incident for the stage. It was very daunting for me but a tremendously exciting phone call to get, it felt a real privilege because he was my mate and this was clearly something that meant a huge amount to him. He’d been approached a hundred times by different people asking for stage rights for the play and always refusing. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the producers of Godspell approached him and asked him to make a musical out of his play. He kind of thought, eventually someone’s going to make this into a piece of theatre so I may as well have some kind of ownership about how that happens. He was very kind about my plays he liked them because he liked me and also because, I don’t know if you know any of my other plays, my other plays are really brutal, miserable, horrible things. I think he liked that in me, I think he thought the danger with his novel is that you can read it as something that’s sentimental and for him it’s not a sentimental story. It’s not a story of redemption. He thought that I’d have the necessary heart of flint to adapt it properly for the stage.
How did it feel having Curious Incident starting from the National and winding up on Broadway? And also you toured England as well?
It’s really odd being a playwright because metabolically, I think we’re quite humble people, a playwright is necessarily humble. If I was less humble I’d be a novelist, because the experience of going to see one of my plays is necessarily mediated by actors. You don’t receive my plays directly from me; it’s a collaborative process making theatre. So there is humility to it, I’m one of those kids who find it very difficult to accept praise, so I find it very difficult to say that anything that I’ve done is good. But because Curious Incident feels like Mark Haddon’s play and I was just one of the team releasing it dramatically, I can just be unapologetic about saying that it was brilliant! To take Mark’s story, we got him over to New York for the opening night and there was a kind of moment where it was like “yeh we did it!” We played in front of hundreds of thousands of people on the national tour and we took the show to Salford in Manchester and met Louis van Gaal, the manager of Man Utd! That was one of the highlights of my actual life! Going to the theatre with the Manchester United manager! It’s been extraordinary, it’s been an incredible journey and the play is about a journey, the play is about a boy who dares to leave his street, who had never left his street before and understands the universe once he leaves his street. We’ve taken it on the most incredible journey you could imagine.