Our Verdict: Outstanding. A Must-See
Our Rating: 10/10
It’s not often a play comes to the Bristol Hippodrome, let alone one as intelligent and inventive as The National Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
The play by Simon Stephens is based on the original 2003 award winning book by Mark Haddon.
It revolves around a fifteen year old boy who discovers the neighbour’s dog has been killed with a garden fork. Christopher, the boy in question, sets out to deduce who’s committed the crime. This is complicated by the fact that he has what appears to be an Autism Spectrum Condition and Savant syndrome. As Christopher continues his investigation – one his father forbids him to carry out – he discovers and untangles more secrets and lies than he bargained for.
What really brings this production to life is a stunning range of creative direction including lighting, sound and video technology in a cube shaped set. The technicalities are something we are talked through at the end of the show if you are not too quick to jump from your seats.
The lighting expertly conveys sensory difficulties, meltdowns and information processing that really helps the audience understand what is going on inside the character’s mind and body.
There’s more fantastic use of set and props as Christopher slowly puts together a fully functioning train set piece by piece through the entire first act. This is a nice juxtaposition to the frantic video design of Swindon and Paddington stations as well as the journey through the London Underground.
But the excellence of the show is not all down to technology. This is a real ensemble piece with some mighty fine acting and physical theatre from a well directed cast.
Joshua Jenkins is Christopher Boone in what is an outstanding performance. His portrayal of a child with ‘Behavioural Problems’ is so good that it is incredibly close to home for me. Having a child currently being assessed for Asperger’s (even though it’s not really called that any more) and already diagnosed with sensory processing difficulties, I laughed quietly and smiled with recognition through most of the performance. I laughed at the funny bits and even the sad bits. It’s very rare to find another human who ‘gets it’. Even if it’s an actor on the stage. The sensory meltdowns are frighteningly accurate. The violence at not wanting to be touched is spot on. The infuriating lack of ability to understand any form of metaphor is both funny and frustrating true. And, the exhaustingly literal conversations draining. Even the outbursts of honesty where it’s neither required nor wanted are true to life.
Hopefully apart from an evening of theatrical entertainment, there will be members of the audience who will take home a real life lesson from this. Some empathy and understanding that this is a genuine ‘hidden’ disability rather than a naughty child and bad parenting.
Interestingly, a note from original author Mark Haddon in the programme, ‘regrets’ the fact that Asperger Syndrome was used on the cover of the original novel. Instead he explains how the traits Christopher displays are not necessarily a direct representation of someone with the condition, but are taken from the behaviours and quirks of people that Haddon has met over time.
Writing in June 2012, he hoped originally to create a character that was believable. One that was ‘rich and layered’ rather than the tick box list of a diagnostic label.
It’s fair to conclude that this production succeeds with Haddon’s original vision. Not only is it a damn good mystery story, but it is told with rich, multi-dimensional characters, some world-class acting and a gorgeous puppy.
At The Bristol Hippodrome from Tuesday 04 – Saturday 08 August 2015