A curious and relevant role…

Julie Hale (Siobhan) & Joshua Jenkins (Christopher Boone). Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

WHEN the overseas tour of the National Theatre of Great Britain’s stage adaption of the celebrated novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time came up, actor Julie Hale thought she had no chance of continuing the role of the sympathetic teacher Siobhan.

“The big shock for me was I have a husband and three kids in Glasgow and I’m from Dublin but I married a Glaswegian,” says Hale down the phone from Brisbane where the play was nearing the end of its run there.

“When the touring role came up it was down to me and another woman and I can remember talking to my husband about it. He said, ‘there’s no way they will go with you, you’re from Scotland and you have a husband and three kids, the other woman is in London and as far as we know has no dependents or any real commitments.’

“But when the call came through to say I had the touring role, my husband was amazing, saying, it’s the adventure of a life-time handed to you like that.”

And so it was Hale came to Australia, first to Melbourne earlier this year for a seven-week season of The Curious Incident (winner of five Tony Awards and seven Olivier Awards) at the Melbourne Arts Centre, then to Hong Kong, Singapore and China. After Brisbane the play goes to Canberra, Sydney and Adelaide before opening in Perth from 8-19 August at His Majesty’s Theatre.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a 2003 mystery novel by British writer Mark Haddon. The novel is narrated in the first-person by Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old boy who describes himself as “a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties” living in Swindon, Wiltshire. Christopher investigates the murder of Mrs Eileen Shears’ black poodle Wellington which he finds dead in her garden.

The book was the joint winner of the 2004 Boeke Prize, won the 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year award and sold more than two million copies.

A stage adaption, by Simon Stephens and directed by Marianne Elliott, premiered at the National Theatre in London in August 2012.

Hale describes the role of Christopher’s teacher Siobhan as the one person in the play who really identifies with him and actually gets him, understands how he works and how to work with him.

“We are a really good team and I think Siobhan is the one character in the play who is like a big comfort blanket. When she appears you feel safe and warm. It is a nice role to play.”

Hale trained at the Samuel Beckett Centre, Trinity College, Dublin at the HB Studio, New York and at the Impulse Studio, London.

Her work in theatre includes Whisky Galore for the National Theatre of Scotland, Cured at the Arches, Glasgow and Old Times and Love in the Title with London Classic Theatre.

Television includes Shetland, Garrow’s Law and Crash with film roles in My Left Foot, Ash Wednesday and WC.

“When I left school it was all about travelling to the States and I hadn’t been to this part of the world before,” she said.

“My children are aged 11, 9 and 7 and I do miss them a lot, but they have been out here with husband Jimmy to Melbourne and Philip Island. I went to Hong Kong and Jimmy took them to the Barrier Reef, they have also been to Hong Kong and Singapore.”

Hale says The Curious Incident was very well received in China.

“There were little things like basically it is all sur titles but I think a huge amount of the audience were speaking English anyway. We were doing Q and A afterwards and they would have to translate everything back and forth and I can recall asking who speaks English and I would say around 90 per cent of the audience put their hands up.

“To the extent of how well they knew English, I don’t know. Sometimes they were laughing at jokes before they came out because they had read them before they were spoken.”

Hale has been playing Siobhan since last September but this particular production has been going since January last year with a nine-month UK tour.

“Everyone was given the option of whether they wanted to travel internationally or not and the woman playing Siobhan previous to me decided she did not want to travel. Then the choice came down to another woman and myself so it was an amazing opportunity.”

Hale doesn’t leave the stage for the play’s first act while in the second she pops in and out.

She believes it takes a special person to work with people with special needs.

“I think it needs a special kind of skill set, it is not only dealing with the person with needs in front of you but it is also dealing with all the other people in that person’s life.

“Having children probably does help and in Ireland we don’t talk down to children, we talk to them as an equal. We do expect a certain amount of respect and I think I probably bring a bit of that to it. I speak to Christopher as an equal.

“The play is hugely relevant to today’s society, there has been a whole massive shift in everybody’s understanding. I even see that with my children going to school and how inclusive schools are now.

“This is one of the most unique roles I have tackled. For everything it encompasses, it has been the most amazing thing. For me I have three kids close together and I found myself living in Glasgow in a traditional family home which was never my idea.

“It has given me the opportunity to see parts of the world – like I am going whale watching tomorrow.”

Future plans?

“I think I will have a ball and chain attached to my ankle, my husband and kids won’t let me go anywhere. But I need to put some feelers out through my agent to find some work closer to home.”

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time plays at His Majesty’s Theatre 8-19 August.

Previous articleRecipe: Delicious country fruit pie
Next articleRecipe: Gypsy Stew (Guisado Gitano)
Josephine Allison started her career in journalism at 18 as a cadet on the Geraldton Guardian newspaper. She realised her ambition to work on a daily newspaper when she later joined The West Australian where she spent almost 34 years covering everything from police courts to parliament, general news, the arts and real estate. After moving on from The West, she worked on several government short-term media contracts and part-time at a newspaper in Midland before joining Have a Go News in 2012. These days she enjoys writing about interesting people from various fields, often unsung heroes who have helped make WA a better place.