News & Commentary, Theatre

The curious case of the incident of the rat in the dog in the night-time play

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The Melbourne Theatre Company and Arts Centre, Melbourne production of the National Theatre, London’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is an unequivocal hit. Every seat for its nine shows a week has been sold in its six week season that has been extended until February 25.

But the cost of importing the show and its full UK cast of 10 human actors has its limits. Those who’ve seen the show elsewhere might remember that its protagonist, 15 year old Christopher, has a pet rat called Toby. A living rat. But Melbourne audiences see Christopher with a furry puppet on a stick pretending to be the real Toby.

While there is still one live animal in the Melbourne production (as the title of the show might suggest), it seems that for the MTC the $25,000 cost of casting a rat is one member of the animal kingdom too many.

Casting any animal in a show usually requires the booking of at least one more of its species – a showbiz practice initiated by Noah.

In the case of a rat — a back-up, understudy or rest rat is required when the star rodent refuses to get out of bed, or if in a mood, sits slumped in front of its dressing room mirror, like Margot Robbie in I Tonya, wondering if the quest for fame has been worth it.

The real cost of the rats – and the $25,000 price tag – comes down to the costs of a rat wrangler who must tend to their demands (which apparently involve after dinner mints), and keep them primed for — showtime!

As this interview from the show’s UK website below shows, the rats are demanding. But they’re worth it. (The image above is from the UK production of the play featuring a completely live cast).

“Toby the Rat is an important character in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

He is Christopher’s closest companion who he takes everywhere with him. As the West End’s most famous rodents, our current rats share some interesting facts about themselves.

  1. We really, really like to eat sweet corn and dog treats.
  1. We are incredibly clever; the Curious Incident team trained us ready for the show, the same way a dog would be trained.
  1. We like to spend about 76% of daylight hours sleeping, we have a lovely comfy home backstage so that we can rest and have lots of energy for each performance!
  1. We can unwrap After Eights! We don’t eat them though as they would make us very ill, but the wrappers are the perfect material to make a comfy bed.
  1. When a new Christopher starts in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, they meet us first so that we can bond with the actor and get used to being around him (and become his friend!).
  1. We are both named after characters in Gilmore Girls.
  1. The rats that were in Curious Incident before us were named Splat, Nellie and Marilyn. Their names were voted for by fans of the show.
  1. Did you know that rats can laugh when they are played with? See if you can hear us giggling in the show.
  1. If you were wondering why there are 2 of us, we take it in turns to be in the show so that we have plenty of time for doing normal ratty things!”

Read our review of the Melbourne production here 

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