The curious work of Simon Stephens

Known for dark indie theatre such as Sea Wall and Harper Regan, Simon Stephens seemed a surprising choice to adapt Mark Haddon’s bestseller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as a theatre spectacular, but the playwright believes it is among his best work.

Simon Stephens is on an artistic roll when The Adelaide Review calls him in London. He’s finishing his fourth play in eight months while three major seasons of his productions are about to begin: Fatherland (by Stephens, Frantic Assembly’s Scott Graham and Underworld’s Karl Hyde), a revival of Sea Wall (starring Andrew Scott of Sherlock fame) and the Australian leg of the big budget theatre production The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Stephens was handpicked by Mark Haddon to adapt his bestselling 2003 mystery novel about a boy with behavioural difficulties who investigates the death of a neighbour’s dog. The National Theatre production is one of a number of blockbuster shows directed by multiple Tony Award-winner Marianne Elliott (War Horse and Angels in America on Broadway).

“Working with her is always energising and inspiring,” Stephens says. “I think what was really unusual, and I think I’ve spoken about this before, was the possibility of making theatre my kids could go and see. Normally my plays are defined by extreme violence or brutality or swearing, it’s not very appropriate for my then eight-year-old son to engage with that kind of thing,” he jokes.

Indeed, a proud parent moment for Stephens occurred when one his middle son boasted to an audience member that his dad had written the play, which has won seven Olivier Awards and five Tony Awards.

“At the end of the show he was telling people next to us to make sure they stayed because of the special trick at the end of the production,” Stephens recalls.

“He said, ‘He wrote it. He’s my dad.’ Even now I find that quite emotional telling it. That was really special.”

Stephens, who is one of the most performed English playwrights in Germany, says he celebrates the artistic calibre of the commercial The Curious Incident… as much as anything else he’s written.

“Although it has an accessibility to it, and it’s deliberately and pointedly so, I think it stands up to anything else that I’ve worked on. I think that’s because of the brilliance of Mark Haddon and the brilliance of Marianne Elliott and the team of artists they’ve ensemble who are really like the A-list or the A-team.”

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Entertainment Centre
Tuesday, July 31 to Saturday, August 4
curiousincident.com.au

Photography: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

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