Amy Moore speaks exclusively to Graham Butler, who plays Christopher Boone in the successful West End production – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
HOW DID YOUR BACKGROUND AFFECT YOUR CAREER CHOICE?
There’s no history of the arts in my family. I watched my parents spend their lives doing things they didn’t particularly like, and they are very encouraging. My eldest brother went into acting – he’s a Director – and my other brother is a Writer. I was sort of surrounded by artistic people, but I don’t know where it came from initially. We all got into it as kids, but not on any serious or professional level.
HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN CREATIVE?
The three of us were always writing little plays and performing them in the garden, but it certainly wasn’t considered a viable career choice. It wasn’t something I thought about until the age of 19 or 20. I was on my way to university and I deferred a year so I could go travelling. It was during this time that I decided I wanted to give it a go. I fell into it rather. I just decided one day when I was sitting in Paris that I wanted to go to drama school. Fortunately, I got in and people started giving me jobs.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST ACTING EXPERIENCE LIKE?
Officially, my first job was two lines in Law & Order UK, but the first proper job I count is a play called The White Guard at the National Theatre. I had one scene in this three hour, epic Ukrainian play, and it was the most glorious feeling – performing at the National Theatre with all these amazing actors around me. I remember saying to someone, if I don’t get any more jobs that’s fine, because I was so satisfied that I’d seen a bit of real life acting.
HOW DID YOU WORK TO GET YOURSELF KNOWN?
It’s not what you know; it’s who you know. The first year out of drama school, you travel around and you meet so many important people. I’m still on that path now. I’m certainly not in a position where I can just walk into any job. When it came to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, it would have been unlikely that I was cast if I hadn’t had a couple years’ experience at the theatre.
WHAT DID YOU FIND MOST COMPELLING ABOUT CHRISTOPHER BOONE?
Christopher doesn’t understand things like metaphors. When he’s asked a question, he’ll answer it truthfully. He can’t really lie. Most theatre is made up of subtext with no one quite saying what they mean and Christopher does the exact opposite. There’s great comedy to be found in that, through the misunderstandings that happen between people. It’s just a wonderful thing not to be constantly backtracking all the time – what does this really mean? Christopher actually says it. I can’t think of many characters in theatre that work like that.
HOW DID YOU WORK TO BRING CHRISTOPHER’S MANNERISMS TO THE STAGE?
Before we started rehearsing, I went to a couple of schools. We met this guy at the second school in London, and he would have all these uncomfortable little ticks. He couldn’t hide his discomfort at times in front of a large group. He would just start tapping away at the table or roll the strings on his jacket. It’s a displacement technique. To a brain that works in that way, everything is very logical.
WERE YOU FAMILIAR WITH THE NOVEL BEFORE YOU ACCEPTED THE ROLE?
I read it about 10 years ago and loved it. But I hadn’t revisited it until I got a phone call from my agent telling me to go and audition. The script is very faithful to the novel.
When we were in the rehearsal room it sat in the middle of the table as we were discussing scenes. We’d always refer back to the novel to see what Christopher was thinking. Sometimes he’d give you a shorthand answer to a possibly tricky theme. It’s told from his point of view. It’s a mystery novel that Christopher is attempting to write. In terms of sheer action, it’s quite amazing what they’ve done with the scenes. People often talk about that tube scene.
Those things are really intimidating, all those people and all that noise and all those lights. In that tube scene it really is quite disorientating, so we don’t have to do a great deal of acting.
YOU WORK WITH A HIGHLY INTERACTIVE STAGE, IS IT EASY TO GET DISTRACTED?
That set is Christopher’s world. We were so well drilled, getting off the escalators and climbing up the back wall – there are elements of actual danger. It was a really technical rehearsal. The great thing from a character and actor’s point of view is that Christopher never leaves the stage. That’s quite an easy way to remain in character and remain non-distracted.
HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR A SHOW?
In rehearsal, we spend a lot of time doing physical work. Every day we meet up at 1800hrs and we do about 45/50 minutes warm up. There’s something about it that gears you up for the show as an ensemble, so you remain connected to everyone. We’ve been doing it for four months now and it always feels really different and fresh, because everyone’s finding new ways to deliver those lines.
DOES THE MATHEMATICAL THEOREM COME NATURALLY TO YOU?
It certainly didn’t come naturally, but it does now. The big mathematical question at the end had to be explained to me in great detail over several frustrating sessions. My brain doesn’t work in that kind of way, I don’t understand numbers and shapes and things, but I think it’s important to know what I am talking about. Just the way Christopher’s mind works – he thinks in numbers – and there’s some sort of conflict in it once you understand. I think he says it in the book: ‘Prime numbers are like life. They are very logical, but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them,’ which I think for Christopher is a great comfort, that there is some form of stability in an otherwise crazy world.
FINALLY, WHAT CAN AUDIENCES EXPECT FROM THE SHOW?
It’s a strange combination of high art storytelling and beautiful, bold special effects. You get everything you’d expect, within a story that affects a lot of people. It’s also about marriage and the breakdown of marriage and betrayal. It’s about love and lies. Generally, within the story there is something that can affect everyone.
Graham Butler’s stage credits include Shakespeare’s Henry VI performed at Shakespeare’s Globe, in addition to The White Guard at the National Theatre and Journey’s End at the Duke of York’s Theatre. Graham Butler’s television credits include ITV’s Law & Order UK, Channel 5’s Suspects and American TV series Penny Dreadful.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time continues at the Gielgud Theatre in London. Tickets are available from www.curiousonstage.com