In Simon Stephens’ The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a highly gifted teenage boy named Christopher Boone investigates the murder of his neighbor’s dog, Wellington. As his investigation unfolds, Christopher unearths family secrets that throw his world in a tailspin, making him question everything he believes, and spurring him on an adventure that will change his life forever. In FST’s production of Curious Incident, Ashton Heyl plays Siobhan, Christopher’s sweet teacher who helps Christopher learn how to communicate better with others and navigate the stressful outside world.
We met with Ashton to talk about her connection to Siobhan, the play’s unique story, and the different roles Siobhan plays in Christopher’s life.
One of the most important relationships in Curious Incident is Christopher’s connection with Siobhan. How would you describe their relationship?
First and foremost, theirs is a teacher/student relationship. Siobhan respects Christopher’s intelligence, sense of humor, and unique view of the world. She also guides him and offers advice when he turns to her for help during difficult or confusing life situations.
In the context of the play, Siobhan also serves as the narrator, as well as a “Spirit Guide” version of herself when she appears as a helpful voice in Christopher’s head. It’s a wonderful challenge to have those switches in energy and focus as I change from “Narrator Siobhan” to “Real Life Teacher Siobhan” to “Spirit Guide/Voice in Christopher’s head Siobhan.”
Some have described Siobhan as the “guiding light” in Christopher’s life. How would you describe her? How are you two similar? How are you different?
I could see how people would describe Siobhan as Christopher’s “guiding light,” since she’s such a positive, helpful person in his life. She is a guide, particularly when she appears as a voice in Christopher’s head. In those moments, Christopher has summoned “Spirit Guide Siobhan” to offer reassurance, to help ground and encourage himself, in a funny way, I think Christopher is becoming his own “guiding light.”
While it’s a more complicated relationship, Christopher’s father also really loves and supports him and tries to guide him. Since Ed is with Christopher the majority of the time as the primary parent, that stress, anxiety, and responsibility wears on him. Since Siobhan is not Christopher’s parent or guardian, she naturally has more patience to contend with his ever-active mind.
In terms of similarities to Siobhan, she respects boundaries, enjoys helping others, and also has a goofy, fun sense of play at times, which are qualities I also possess. When it comes to how I’m different from Siobhan, she seems to possess endless patience, which is a quality I strive to have.
What is your biggest challenge in playing Siobhan? What is the most rewarding part?
Siobhan talks A LOT in this play, which is certainly a fantastic challenge as an actor. There’s a lot of text I’m conveying to the audience as the narrator, and also as a go-between interpreter for Christopher and the audience. I set certain goals for myself every night, in terms of sensibility, dialect, speaking quickly but intelligibly, etc., which keeps me engaged and alert. As an actor, I never want to go on auto-pilot and serve “last night’s leftovers” to an audience. I want to serve up a fresh, immediate performance in response to their attendance that night and what my fellow actors onstage are doing onstage that evening.
The most rewarding part is seeing Alexander Stuart onstage each night as Christopher. At the end of the play, I feel immense pride, joy, and hope for Christopher.
What does Siobhan understand about/see in Christopher that others might not?
Siobhan recognizes Christopher’s extreme intelligence and his ability to think outside the box. She also sees the potential pitfalls he might experience from being on the spectrum and tries to coach him through those more challenging moments and situations.
What is your favorite moment or scene in the play?
It changes every night…Stuey – Alexander Stuart – has been clicking his toes together joyfully on a particular line recently – almost like a reverse Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz – which I’m currently deeply charmed and delighted by, as is Siobhan.
Why do you think that people are so drawn to this play/story?
It’s a true hero’s journey about someone who feels that they are different and that they don’t fit in, which is something I think we’ve all felt – middle school, anyone?
With perseverance and grit, Christopher is able to grow over the course of the play, utilizing his differences as strengths, and despite dealing with some difficult and painful situations, he does triumph. It’s beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopeful all at once.