The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: Preview
Tim Gruchy is running late so I settle myself into the conference room with a cup of tea. The production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time has been hotly anticipated. Based on Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel about a boy, a mathematical genius, who responds to an accusation of murdering the next door dog by turning detective himself, it was adapted for the stage by the award-winning Simon Stephens and became a hit in London’s West End, winning Olivier Awards in 2013 and a Tony in New York in 2015. The ATC Production feels a long time coming, but at last it is here: it previews from Thursday. The opening night on Saturday is sold out.
Mathematics is key to Christopher’s mind and character, so the challenge in the adaptation is to bring the mathematics to the fore in an interesting way that enhances the story and doesn’t hold the story back.
Enter Tim Gruchy. Gruchy is an award-winning artist exploring the composition of multi-media platforms for installations, music and performance. His work has been featured in theatre, opera, festivals, galleries and public spaces the world over. He is perhaps most well known for the SCOUT! display at Britomart, a tall screen on a black box, which used mathematical programming and sensors to respond to external stimuli giving the impression of sentience: ‘putting the art into artificial intelligence’. A self-professed maths nerd, he is the perfect choice to create the audio-visual design for The Curious Incident.
He looks the part, with a long thin goatee and white hair, an artist meets science geek. He is very proud never to have had a proper job. We don’t have long. He has been darting across town via Uber between production meetings, programming sessions and media calls. He is on a roll. Do you want to ask questions or do it free-form? He asks. Free-form, I say, and off we go for a behind-the-scenes, quick-as-you-can insight into the logistical headache with which he is grappling. He has turned on his computer and is showing me the plans. He takes his glasses off for a moment and wipes his eyes.
The set is made up of white cubes, some are on the floor, some are dangling from the ceiling, the audience are sitting in the round. He has four projectors, two on the ground, two on the ceiling and with them he has to create a theatrical experience that is sufficiently consistent and clear for all the audience. Numbers stream from a little black box on a separate screen. From certain angles, a direct projection would stretch the image, which means the original image has to be squashed so that it un-distorts itself when projected (an extra hand has been hired to do this job alone). And then – just to make things even harder – the actors move the cubes around.
‘Do you trust them?’ I ask. He does. The cast are fantastic. The thing is with theatre, it always has to be done in lightning time. They have just a day to work in the theatre and run through it once. Nevertheless, he is full of energy and excitement. He has done a lot of work in Opera and on his own art projects, but there is something appealing about the on a shoe-string, the show-must-go-on buzz about theatre which has drawn him back, along with the chance of working collaboratively with people he admires like director Sara Brodie and Jo Kilgour, who is co-designer of the show with John Verryt.
‘You know tetris?’ He asks me. Of course I do: the old school computer game where the blocks fall into position. He shows me a V made up of coloured rectangles that seem to be falling on the spot. Different, but it captures the feel. ‘You don’t get literal, you get representational.’
Another challenge of the job is to enhance the production without taking attention away from the actors. It is a fine line. There is a saying in the theatre community that you only notice the lighting if it was bad: it must serve the play more than itself. This production is aiming to create, I believe, an immersive experience full of delight and wonder – and it is a treat to talk to one of the men behind it.
Do you have any questions? He asks. I do. Loads, about the production, about his other work exhibiting in Shanghai, lecturing in Japan, working in drama in Australia, but we both have to go, to get on with our various jobs. Theatre. Amazing what you can do with never enough money and never enough time.