Boyan Ivanov: The performance “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” became a cause

The director of the show talks with Jacqueline Dobreva about the process of its creation.

„The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” after the bestselling novel by Mark Haddon is staged for the first time in Bulgaria in Drama Theatre – Ruse. How did this text come to your attention and what were its qualities that provoked you to stage it?

Some years ago I watched the London performance as a screening from NT Live, and the story impressed me so much that I immediately sought out the novel to read. It further provoked me because there the story line with the mother is much more complex and yet simple in terms of life meaning, and the symptoms of Christopher (who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s autism) do not accentuate pathological behaviour but bring the reader into the iron logic of the protagonist. This further motivated my desire to tell this story on stage. I knew it would be complicated technically, and I waited for the right moment to be able to realize this project without compromising.

Photo: Mirela Partinova

The plot tells the story of fifteen-year-old Christopher with Asperger’s syndrome who is accused of the murder of a dog. He begins his own investigation, which seems like an impossible task for a man in his condition. From a purely acting point of view, what challenges does such an impersonation present? What demands did you have on actor Kaloyan Zhelev to master the character’s personality?

The trap that the director and the actor can fall into when building a character that, after all, also has very vivid external symptomatology, is that one can approach it externally, that is, after observations, using specific characteristics in behaviour, gestures, reactions. At first, I was thinking of working together with a psychologist on the role or at least with an autism specialist. Then I decided that this was not ethical and correct, because it would still lead us with the actor to imitate the behaviour, and I chose a purely theatrical path – I asked Kaloyan at the very first rehearsal not to deal with absolutely no characterizations, even when vivid reactions are described in the rehearsal notes. I wanted us first to understand the way his character thinks, the logic by which he sees and understands things. Then we went with the Christopher’s particularity of not letting himself be touched by anyone. We started adding the logics of Christopher’s other “quirks” and so the gestures and reactions came on their own. And we judged the degree of each on something like a scale according to how strong the provocation would be. It was a really interesting and different process for me. I was personally surprised at how many possibilities an expressive device holds, like never being able to look the person you’re talking to in the eye, for example.

To get the copyright of Simon Stephens’ play, you must meet a few conditions – a real dog must appear in the last act, video mapping must be present in the performance, and all actors must be on stage. Were these requirements an obstacle for you in creating the show?

There was no hindrance with video mapping as I have been using this medium of expression in my performances for years. The appearance of the real dog seemed to be a trial to me. I have never used a live animal on stage. I don’t like it and I find it untheatrical. But in this case, this scene is impossible to achieve the same emotional charge without the live dog. So, I decided to try to make it a cause, always working with homeless animal shelters and at the end of the show offering the audience a puppy for adoption. Nine puppies have been adopted thanks to this so far.

Photo: Mirela Partinova

How does this performance fit into your aesthetic quests?

Working on this show so energized me that I felt myself starting to look for other text that would allow me to develop this aesthetic – of fast, almost cinematographic editing. I have two new ideas on how to continue my attempts in the direction of this stylistics, but only time will tell the result. Or it won’t.

Outside of your work as a theatre maker, you also hold the general manager’s position at the Ruse Drama Theatre. What are your goals and ambitions for the future of this cultural institution?

I have set myself different goals for each year of my mandate. In the next season we will have the first edition of a theatre festival in Ruse. One of my next goals is to open the theatre to international co-productions and working with foreign directors. We have started applying for several programs and I hope to get funding. 

Watch „The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon directed by Boyan Ivanov on 4 June at 18:00, main stage of Drama Theatre – Varna, part of the Bulgarian selection and „Showcase“ program with English subtitles.


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