In the play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, we are introduced to a set of characters who have multiple sides. The primary characters play pivotal roles in the storyline, navigating personal challenges and evolving relationships, showcasing their growth throughout the play.
Christopher is a 15-year-old boy with a talent for maths and science, a fondness for Sherlock Holmes mysteries and the caring owner of a pet rat called Toby. He is intelligent, determined, brave and ambitious, and he has amazing skills in observation and memorising information.
Christopher also has great difficulty in communicating with other people, and finds social cues very confusing. As a result, he tends to avoid social interactions and enjoys spending time on his own. He dreams of becoming an astronaut floating alone in space, which he believes would be enjoyable. This is because he sometimes crawls into a small space “beside the boiler” where he can “think for hours” and “feel very calm”.
At times he can become so overwhelmed by social situations that he shuts down, curling into a ball and groaning in distress. This is an aspect of his behaviour that Judy admits she found very hard to cope with. He also doesn’t like to be touched, which gets him into trouble when he hits a police officer who tries to lift him from the ground. His character traits suggest that Christopher has Asperger’s Syndrome. However, it is never explicitly stated in the play (or the book from which it is adapted).
His determination to solve the puzzle of Wellington’s murder, using logic in the fashion of Sherlock Holmes, his literary hero, draws him out of his rigid and isolated way of living. This mystery-solving sees him take on new challenges
After finding out that his father lied to him about his mother’s death, and that it was he who killed Wellington, Christopher goes on a dramatic journey to London. This takes huge bravery and determination given his lack of knowledge about public transport and the many social interactions that it will involve.
Christopher achieves much in the play:
This gives Christopher the confidence to feel that he “can do anything”. He makes plans for a bright future that involves going to university, living in a flat without assistance, and then becoming a scientist. He grows as a character, gaining a sense of independence that he didn’t have at the beginning of the play.
His return to explain a mathematical formula to the audience after the curtain call shows that he is becoming more comfortable interacting with others.
Ed is shown to be a loving and supportive father towards Christopher. At the beginning of the play, he advocates for the opportunity to take his maths A-level early. Towards the end, he pushes once more for him to be allowed to take his further maths exams the following year.
We see the two of them greet by touching fingertips, the most amount of physical contact that Christopher will allow. Ed sometimes becomes infuriated by his son’s behaviour. This is seen when Ed asks him to “give it a bit of a break” when Christopher delivers a long monologue about his ambition to become an astronaut. However, in her letter, Judy describes Ed as a “much more patient person” than she is, and he “just gets on with things”. These qualities enable him to give Christopher the support that he needs.
However, he still hasn’t come to terms with Judy leaving him two years previously. This causes him to explode with rage at the mention of Mr Shears (whom Judy had an affair with). He explains his killing of Wellington as a moment of “red mist” that resulted from “everything I’d been bottling up for two years.” This continuing anger makes his relationship with his son become more volatile, particularly in the shocking scene when he grabs Christopher’s arm. The two of them fight resulting in Christopher falling “unconscious for a few seconds.” Knowing that his father is capable of the violence that saw him kill Wellington, Christopher loses any sense of safety in living with his father, and so he runs away.
Ed also makes a grave mistake in his lie about Judy being dead. He tells Christopher that he did this because:
“I didn’t know how to explain, it was so complicated. And once I’d said that . . . I couldn’t change it. It just . . . It got out of control.”Ed
In some ways, the audience may find this understandable and even have some sympathy for Ed as he was dealing with a difficult emotional situation. However, it is a cruel lie to tell, and he completely loses his son’s trust once the lie is exposed. Why would Ed go to such lengths to protect Christopher from the truth? Was it his way of sheltering Christopher from the harsh realities of their family dynamics?
He spends the second half of the play trying to regain Christopher’s trust, which eventually happens after he promises “never to hurt” him and buys him a dog. They bond by planting a vegetable patch together in the garden, suggesting a new beginning for their relationship. This is a symbol of their growing relationship, which will eventually repair their strained bond.
Christopher believes that his mother (Judy) died from a heart attack two years previously. However, this is first put into doubt when Mrs Alexander reacts with surprise upon hearing about Judy’s apparent death. It is revealed that Judy actually separated from Ed after having an affair with Mr Shears (Roger) and now lives in London.
The 44 letters she wrote, persisting even when she didn’t receive any response, demonstrate that she cares deeply for her son, and feels remorse for leaving him. She admits that she struggled to cope with motherhood. In particular, with the meltdowns that her son would go into when overwhelmed by social situations. She remembers seeing how Christopher was “Much calmer” with Ed than with her, and she concluded that they would be better off without her there.
Judy has a romantic view of the world. This is suggested by her visions of Christopher becoming an astronaut, and the fantasy she once had of an alternative life where she didn’t marry Ed, but instead lived in a “little farmhouse in the South of France with someone called Jean.” The reality of her life away from Ed and Swindon is far less romantic. She finds herself in a small London flat with Roger, who is often argumentative. When Roger hits Christopher, she immediately decides to leave this life she had chosen and focus on her son.
Judy gains a new sense of her worth as a mother, realising how much Christopher does need her. Due to this, he lives mostly with her when they move back to Swindon. She still finds it difficult to cope with him at times, and we see her becoming frustrated by him when she snaps:
“Jesus. Half an hour Christopher. I need you to be quiet for half an hour.”
However, she gives him the love and support that he needs. She even helps to reconcile him with his father, despite the problems that continue to exist between her and Ed.