Festival Theatre: Tue 28 April – Sat 9 May
Perfect equation… Visually slick and intellectually enthralling, the National Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, captures your imagination and simply doesn’t let go. Not during the show, and not afterwards.
When 15 year-old Christopher discovers his friend and neighbour Mrs Shears’s dog Wellington dead on her lawn, killed with a garden fork, most people have just one question to ask: Why did you kill it?
Joshua Jenkins (Christopher) and Stuart Laing (Ed) in The Curious Incident. Photo by Brinkhoff Agenberg
Christopher, who is actually 15 years, three months and two days old at the time, has a different question to ask: Who murdered Wellington?
And ask it he does, going well beyond his comfort zone to do so. Speaking to strangers who live on his street in Swindon – even ones wearing yellow, going house to house in a complicated number sequence and recording the experience of trying to solve this real-life murder mystery in his big green jotter for his teacher and mentor, Siobhan.
Christopher, it emerges, is a genius when it comes to maths but seems devoid of all the social skills and empathy needed to react successfully with others. He has, as he says, “behavioural problems”.
Numbers and colour dominate the way he interacts with the world. He is constantly counting things and following internally logical patterns to allow him to cope his surroundings. The right colours seen at the right time make a day auspicious and he dislikes food if it is the wrong colour.
If this is a very authentic adaptation of Mark Haddon’s hugely popular novel by Simon Stephens, it stands fine by itself as a piece of theatre thanks to clever and understanding direction from Marianne Elliott.
Joshua Jenkins (Christopher) in The Curious Incident. Photo: Brinkhoff Âgenberg
Elliott brings out a huge central performance from Joshua Jenkins as Christopher; gives Frantic Assembly room to drill her 13-strong ensemble to perfection and has the creative team of designer Bunny Christie with lights by Paule Constable and Video from Fin Ross to thank for an but apparently simple but impressively technical black-box set.
This is no small achievement in the barn-like spaces of the Festival Theatre. Perhaps Jenkins’ greatest technical achievement is to make it an intimate space, one where you can zone right in to Christopher’s life and way of thinking, get to know him and see everything implicitly from his point of view.
It’s the well-drilled nature of the rest of the cast and the technical tricks of the black box stage which really allow that vision to come to life.
In this way it could be said to be a cinematic experience: the floor, side and rear walls becoming a canvas on which Christopher’s perceptions of his surroundings are created. Red lights create a path for him, scribbles become passing landscapes as his surroundings are reduced to a geometric pattern.
colour the narrative
The ensemble are drilled to corps-de-ballet standards, choreographed to provide support to movement, but also popping up into the frame of Christopher’s reference for moments, to deliver lines that colour the narrative and remind you of of how abrasive and alien they are to his world.
Joshua Jenkins (Christopher) and the cast of The Curious Incident. Photo: Brinkhoff Âgenberg
The three real exceptions are the three character’s closest to Christopher. Geraldine Alexander’s Siobhan provides much of the narrative, reading from Christopher’s journal with the professional calm and patience of a really good teacher.
Stuart Laing finds a robust balance of love and exasperation as his dad, Ed, who has to try and negotiate with his son to get what he can live with, but still has a parent’s unambiguous love for a child. Gina Isaac as Judy, Christopher’s mother, starts the play off dead from a heart-attack but finds a powerful wealth of anger when it is needed.
From the opening noise of a deep, rolling electronic bass note right up to its final moment, this is a production which delivers. And it specifically, it delivers on both its promises.
First of these is that it is a thoroughly fantastic theatrical production which you would find it nearly impossible to better. A glimpse into the world of an autistic boy which brings it to life and makes it real.
The second promise is made to its audience in the final scenes as Christopher is sitting an exam. As a word for the wise: seeing that promise kept is worth staying in your seat for, after the curtain.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (including interval)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Tuesday 28 April – Saturday 9 May 2015
Evenings 7.30pm, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday matinee: 2pm
Tickets and details: http://www.edtheatres.com/curiousincident/
Curious Incident on tour 2015:
28 April – 9 May
0131 529 6000
12 – 23 May
The Marlowe Theatre
26 May – 6 June
0844 871 3012
9 – 13 June
01162 423 595
23 June – 4 July
7 – 11 July
Hall For Cornwall
14 – 18 July
0844 871 3020
21 – 25 July
08448 713 017
4 – 8 August
0844 871 3012
11 – 15 August
0844 871 3022
18 – 22 August
0844 871 7648
25 – 29 August
0844 848 2700
1 – 5 September
8 – 12 September
01603 63 00 00
15 – 26 September
0114 249 6000
6 – 10 October
0818 719 377
13 – 17 October
Grand Opera House
20 – 31 October
3 – 7 November
Milton Keynes Theatre
0844 871 7652
17 – 21 Nomvember