Joseph Ayre & the cast of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'(Photo: Brinkhoff-Mögenburg) View Comments Joseph Ayre only recently graduated from drama school and has already landed the leading role of Christopher, the mathematically gifted, socially challenged 15-year-old at the bruising heart of Simon Stephens’s hit play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Gielgud Theatre. Ayre is following where Olivier winner Luke Treadaway and Tony winner Alex Sharp first led, so those names were among the topics ripe for discussion when Broadway.com chatted with the ebullient young actor.How does it feel to make your professional stage debut in one of the most acclaimed plays of recent years?It’s been a trial by fire. For the first three weeks, I was absolutely convinced something had gone wrong or that they had the wrong guy, but I’m now in my fourth week, so I guess not. I’m quite chuffed. I gather you had a visit backstage the other night from the role’s Broadway originator, Alex Sharp. That was really awesome. I only found out at the end of the performance which was good because if they had told me before that he was in [the audience], I would have been an absolute mess. He’s such a nice, sweet guy and it was really nice to meet someone who had gone through it. He knew what it took to do [the part] onstage, and you could tell he was really empathizing with what I had done.Did he have any advice for you?Well, I don’t think he wanted to be overbearing with his presence. It was more a matter of being complimentary and sympathetic. We stood there agreeing that the role’s a bugger: he could not have been more down to earth. Had you seen the production prior to taking on the part of Christopher?Actually, I made a point of not doing that. I decided it would be better to do it as if the part had just started with me rather than looking to see if, for example, someone got a laugh on a certain line and then I started trying myself to get the same laugh. You’re not doing all eight shows, so now you can see your alternate in the part.That’s right, I do five shows and Tom [actor Thomas Dennis] does three, which means that I have been able a few times to see him and also watch the play unfold. What’s interesting is that the play seems a much smaller thing when you’re in it, but watching someone else do it, you realize the enormity and scope of the entire thing, which really helps. Did you know the original Mark Haddon novel before this all came along?I’d heard of the book but I’d not read it before, so the first thing I did when I got this was read the book and it was just amazing. Actually, I have two copies in my dressing room. I got one proper copy as a gift from my girlfriend and then a second copy to scribble in which has my notes in it and is a bit of a mess. One of the books is next to a bottle of gin someone bought me: my dressing room is like a bohemian paradise!Why do you think the play has had such prolonged success?I’m biased, obviously, but I think it has to do with how well the character of Christopher is written. He’s so lovable that you can’t help but love him by the end of the show, and in the book, it’s even more so. The script also allows a marriage between the text and physical work that is itself so interesting and unique that the result is like a once-in-a-lifetime lightning in a bottle.Christopher is quite the whiz at math, is that true of you?That’s not my strong suit at all so that part of things is quite a challenge. The thing with Christopher is that he thinks 10 times faster than I do and speaks 10 times faster, so my task is to get up to speed with his thought. It’s about taking the air out of it but without rushing: you’ve got to get his pace of thought. The character also exists on the autistic spectrum.He does although Mark Haddon writes that he is not an expert on autism and really wishes in a sense that people would see the play as a show about difference rather than disability. The point is, this isn’t a realistic representation of autism, it’s an artistic one, so I’ve got to keep all that in mind while honoring Christopher and who he is and doing that justice. I haven’t got any bottles thrown at me yet. And you have to play someone who’s 15.Right, when I will be 23 in February! The funny thing is at drama school, I tended to play older, not younger, so playing someone that young was quite daunting. What I realized early on was that it wasn’t about aging down and putting on funny voices. The play is strong enough that you just need to be truthful and the audience will go along with it. It’s more about how he reacts to things that scare him that maybe wouldn’t scare someone who was older. There’s a lot in the play about Christopher’s journey to London, which you have had to make yourself, since you come from the Yorkshire city of Hull, several hours north of London. Absolutely, the difference being that it’s so easy for me to pack my suitcase and get on the train to come down to London whereas the second act of the play is really Christopher’s odyssey to get to his mum’s house in London, and I think it takes a lot of determination and grit for him to get there. Every time I go home on the tube [subway], I have a flash of Christopher, who would be so terrified in that moment but I’m not—so I have a lot of sympathy for him. Is there any friendly competition or rivalry between you and the alternate Christopher?Well, Tom is 19, so he’s closer in age to the part than I am. In fact, we’ve just bought a chess board so we can play Christopher vs. Christopher chess, and Tom is winning so far. I have a sneaky suspicion he may be smarter than me but we’ll see.