Curious, certainly. Extraordinary: definitely. This is one of those rare productions which pushes theatre beyond our expectations to deliver an exhilarating night of spectacle and drama.
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time
Grand Opera House, York
Until Sat Jan 24 @ 7.30pm; Weds, Thurs, Sat matinees 2.30pm
£14.90 – £37.90
Many will know and love Mark Haddon’s book on which the show is based. Via Simon Stephens’ skilful script, this is an adaptation that at once stays faithful to the remarkable inner world created in The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, yet explodes it into a three dimensions where our hero Christopher can float in space and walk on vertical walls.
Ah, Christopher Boone. What a memorable boy. All of 15, with a brain that could trounce Einstein’s and the emotional range of a tantrum-happy two-year-old.
He can’t process a simple metaphor, so how is he expected to cope with discovering his neighbour’s dog murdered with a garden fork? By turning it into a giant puzzle that the brilliant bit of his brain can solve.
As a detective who, as we would now say, is “somewhere on the spectrum”, Christopher is among company which embraces his own hero Sherlock Holmes, through to Reece Shearsmith’s DS Sean Stone, the empathy-free protagonist in recent ITV police drama Chasing Shadows.
But here any criminal investigation is secondary, a way of letting us explore Christopher’s world and the people within it.
Hats off to the young star
On stage all through the 160 minute National Theatre production, Joshua Jenkins has the entire caboodle riding on his young shoulders.
Brazenly rude, horrifically honest, violent towards those who reach out to him, Christopher could be a monster. It is to Joshua’s immense credit that the audience quickly understands why so many love him, as we do ourselves before long.
It is a bravura performance. Afterwards you mull on his feat of memory – so many lines, requiring Mensa-esque precision of delivery, among them the recitation of dozens of prime numbers and a fiendish A level maths question.
And there’s the incredible physicality too. From the overgrown toddler building his railway layout – the tracks symbolising Christopher’s trammelled mindset – to the fit brought on by emotional trauma to the spacewalk of his dreams.
Yet during the show we are only aware of watching a confused, strange, endearing and funny teenager. Remarkable.
His supporting cast – and they do support him up into the air in many a scene – are terrific. Stuart Laing as Christopher’s father Ed powerfully evokes the wrenching anguish of loving such a difficult son, especially after losing his wife.
We come to understand why he makes the terrible mistakes he does.
Perhaps the only one who truly understands him, teacher Siobhan (Geraldine Alexander) acts as his guiding light – literally on a number of occasions – with a purity of spirit that only the most gifted mentors possess.
When we meet his mum Judy, played with eggshell vulnerability by Gina Isaac, we begin to understand Christopher that little bit more.
Yet Curious would not work without the astonishing versatility of the ensemble. Portraying everyone from police officers to head teachers to London Underground workers, the actors populate Christopher’s world with wonderful skill.
Directing and design wizardry
The set is bounded on all sides by black graph paper. A clever way to externalise Christopher’s mind, the way it is used is nothing short of ingenious.
Through lighting and projection it turns into everything from a panic-inducing underground station to a downpour on a Swindon street. Amazing work by designer Bunny Christie, and Paule Constable and Finn Ross, lighting and video designers respectively.
As impressive is the interaction between the cast and the set – opening doors, pulling desks from the walls, creating everything from a microwave to a fish tank via a glowing cube.
And the actors’ movement, choreograped by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett of Frantic Assembly Physical Theatre, sees them switch from human furniture to a demented rush hour commuters.
To bring all this together as one seamless production takes some doing. Director Marianne Elliott not only had the vision but the theatrical chops to make it work.
Oh, and stay on for a unique curtain call…
These days, we tend to call someone like Christopher ‘special’. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time is more than special. It is a superb night out and, with more National Theatre shows on their way to the Grand Opera House, a reason to be very cheerful.