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Luke Treadaway: 'As a society we're still quite unaware about autism'

The actor, who recently won an Olivier Award for playing Christopher Boone in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, speaks to WhatsOnStage about the show's upcoming fundraiser and how he hopes to increase awareness about autism

Luke Treadaway and Seán Gleeson in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
© Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

Luke Treadaway: I initially had the idea to do a fundraising night when I visited some autistic schools in preparation for doing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the National Theatre last year.

I was struck by the lack of opportunities for the sixth form kids I met who, whilst having incredible support and care at the schools, found it very hard to find employment, meaning their social interactions were quite limited. So I wanted to help raise money for these two great charities - Ambitious About Autism and The National Autistic Society - that do incredible work aiding the transition of these young people from school into employment.

A Curious Night at the Theatre is being staged on 1 July and features a mix of music and stand-up, and a new detective story written by Simon Stephens, featuring Christopher Boone [the hero of Curious Incident]. I don't want to give too much away but he gets sent on a mission during which he meets people including Dr Who, The Queen, Q from the Bond films and Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes. It's an amazing piece of writing and the story will only be seen on this one night - so if people want to find out more they'll have to come along!

Helen Mirren and Luke Treadaway at the 2013 Olivier Awards
© Dan Wooller

I originally wanted to do A Curious Night at the Theatre at the National but our run was too short so I said to [resident director] Katie Rudd "let's do it in the West End". We've had great support from the National Theatre and all the technical crew are giving up their time as well.

I've loved organising it and people have been very generous with their time - recently we filmed a scene between Christopher and Helen Mirren, who was just lovely.

Before doing Curious Incident I didn't know much about autism at all. I'm still no expert but I think I understand a lot more now about what it's like to have autism, or have a child with autism. As a society I think we're still quite unaware about autism and even people who are seemingly educated and open minded are quite unsure about what it actually is. I hope that events such as A Curious Night at the Theatre will help raise awareness so that the next time someone sees somebody struggling with the hustle and bustle on the tube, for example, they might stop and lend a hand.

There's a stereotype that people with autism are geniuses at certain subjects, but only a very small percentage are actually savant in some respect. There are people with high functioning autism and Asperger's who can excel at certain subjects but then there are those with low functioning autism who might struggle with language and need more support. I think it's important to say that everybody with autism is completely different, which is possibly why it's quite difficult to understand.

We regularly hold 'relaxed performances' of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which are a chance for people to come to the theatre in a relaxed and supportive environment so that if their child has autism, or any other form of learning difficulty, they can come and not be worried if they make noise, or get distracted, or have to leave the theatre. We don't change much of the play apart from taking a bit of the volume out and toning down some of the strobe lights. The next one is on Saturday (22 June) at 2.30pm and I'm really looking forward to it.

I'd say Christopher is the most challenging role I've ever played. I do six performances a week in the West End because there was no way I could do eight a week in the role - it would be mentally and physically impossible. It was decided early on that the only way it would work is if we have an alternative Christopher, as it allows me an extra day a week for my body to recover from the aches and bruises.

But at least I'm putting myself through this in the name of something good - if it was half full every night it might be a bit dispiriting. But going right back to the beginning I knew it would be something special. Marianne [Elliott] and Simon [Stephens] and everyone involved just loved the book and were determined to try and make a piece of theatre that maintained its spirit. We didn't make it easy for ourselves but all the components combined in the right way to make an extraordinary show. That's what gets me through every day.

Luke Treadaway continues in the role of Christopher Boone until 31 August. A Curious Night at the Theatre, which features Jude Law, Mel Giedroyc, Simon Amstell and Bat for Lashes, is on 1 July 2013 at 8pm. For tickets click here or call 0844 482 9671