Interview: Mark Haddon and Simon Stephens
We interviewed author Mark Haddon, and Simon Stephens, writer of the stage adaptation.
The pair discuss the key themes of the play as well as the process of adapting The Curious Incident from Page to Stage.
Key themes Transcript:
Simon Stephens: The adaptation was a really joyful experience. I wrote it very quickly, I had real faith in Mark’s novel. I wanted to be very loyal to the novel. The only thing I really knew, I knew 2 things in adapting it.
I knew that the key to it was the relationship between Christopher and his teacher. I knew this, although it’s not that central in the novel, what struck me was that everybody in life has a favourite teacher. Even people who hated school, even people who found school a miserable experience had that one teacher who they loved more than others and thought got them in a way that other teachers didn’t. And I knew if I could get that relationship right then we could make an evening in the theatre that people would recognise themselves in and I think that’s one thing that happened.
The other thing that I knew was that Marianne Elliot had to direct it. I think she’s a visionary director, I think she’s a director of extraordinary imagination, but she’s also very democratic, a very democratic director. And this, as has been said to me several times, is the nation’s favourite novel. This can’t be a piece of theatre that alienates people. This has to be a piece of theatre that you can come to if you’re 10 years old or if you’re 90 years old. It needs to appeal to people that’ve got very high art taste in theatre, but also it’s got to be a family night out.
I thought Marianne could release that really beautifully and really perfectly. And quite quickly we had the idea of working with Frantic Assembly, who are the nation’s leading physical theatre practitioners, I think. And Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett created something which is physically really extraordinary. Everybody working on it, Finn Ross the video designer, Paule Constable the lighting designer, Bunny Christie who designed the extraordinary set, all of us were united in wanting to tell Christopher’s story as honestly and properly as we could.
Page to Stage Transcript:
Mark Haddon: I was absolutely convinced that my novel was unfilm-able and unstage-able. And I had at one point in my life grown so tired of novels that were clearly written with a view to selling the film rights that I kind of judged my own writing by its unadaptability. I was therefore very pleased to look at Curious Incident and think this is so locked into, not just one person’s view of the world, but one person’s very insulated view of the world and one person’s profoundly mistaken view of the world. Because there are things Christopher doesn’t see, there are things he misinterprets so that the reader has to sort of read into his report to the world, things that are not there.
Whereas stage is radically 3rd person, you can infer on stage what people are thinking but you can only do so from what they say and what they do. So I imagined a kind of spectrum with Curious Incident at one end and writable plays at the other. Simon’s genius was to realise that I was completely and utterly wrong.
Simon Stephens: I don’t think it was my genius, I think you’re just very bad at writing books which can’t be adapted for the stage. I think it’s a very adaptable novel because it’s about the things that Christopher does. As long as a story’s about the things that people do to each other then they will always be dramatic. I cherish how active Christopher is and how dramatic the story you told really is.