4-8 August 2015
Reviewed by Siobhan Bridgwater
I had heard of the book. The title stays with you. Curious, indeed. But, despite its numerous awards and accolades, I never read it even though it has been recommended to me on more than one occasion. Nor did I know the story. I went into tonight’s performance blind and I have come out completely dazzled at its brilliance.
The set is the first thing to grab your attention. This perfectly stage-sized, illuminated black and white cube fills the performance space and remains the one constant throughout the show. The sides of the open fronted cube are made up of black grids bordered by a bright white light. And the grid is made up of numerous squares: boxes that become doorways and cupboards, blackboards, sign posts and information providers through a truly spectacular use of complex projections and lighting. This supremely hi tech stage is in stark contrast to its fabulous surroundings, standing like a space ship in the midst of the softly curved theatre of fabulous red velvet plushness and golden edged Victorian grandeur that is the Bristol Hippodrome. Coupling with this most unusual stage set is movement: constant, graceful movement within the cube. The main actors, often sharply illuminated to draw the eye, are joined on stage by numerous other unidentified people, the Ensemble. They are dotted around the cube, sitting or standing, or moving boxes and parts of the grid, coming in and out of focus as new characters are introduced and providing a fluidity and weightlessness to a beautifully, narrated script. It is a remarkably unique and brilliantly choreographed adaptation by Simon Stephens which draws the audience from the get go and carefully cradles us through this agonising story with tenderness and patience.
Christopher Boone, aged 15 years three months and two days, takes centre stage on a very disturbing opening scene. A dog lies motionless beside him, violently murdered, as the beloved pet’s owner, Mrs Shears, appears. She immediately assumes the act is down to Christopher and the police are called. It becomes clear that Christopher is ill-equipped to deal with such a distressing scene. Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome are not mentioned by name and yet the actions and dialogue swiftly reveal a young boy struggling the make sense of the world without order and not able to grasp the complexities of verbal and body language. Physical touch only serves to heighten his sense of bewilderment and distress. After Christopher is wrongly accused of killing Wellington, and subsequently taken into police custody for assaulting the officer that inadvertently touches him, he sets out to uncover the truth. Despite his apparent difficulties with social interaction he attacks this task with steely determination. His detective work, hampered by his father’s view as wrongly getting into other people’s business, leads to a most unexpected discovery as an incredible story unfolds.
In this moving adaptation of Mark Haddon’s award winning novel, we watch Christopher’s world with his father thrown into chaos through a series of lies and deceit over his mother’s earlier affair, and subsequent departure, with Mr Shears. Having been told his mother had died from a heart condition, Christopher’s accidentally happens upon a collection of letters posted after his mother’s “death” from an address in Willesden and hidden in his father’s bedroom. His Dad further reveals that it was in fact he that had killed the dog during a fit of rage after misreading acts of kindness from Mrs Shears. Unable to cope with these two revelations and now fearful for his own safety, he is forced to flee. He leaves the shattered security of his now baffling home life in Swindon and runs away to London in search of sanctuary from his only other formerly trusted family member, with the address etched into his memory from the hidden letters. Accompanied solely by his pet rat, and armed an exceptionally logical brain and profound understanding of mathematics and patterns, Christopher embarks on an overwhelming and terrifying journey. It takes him so far out of his comfort zone as he navigate his way, as best he can, towards the brutal truth and his new reality.
Joshua Jenkins is quite remarkable in this demanding role. On stage throughout the evening, his portrayal of a young man who is both sensitive and insensitive, endearing and blunt, gentle and violent is wholly believable and completely absorbing. He darts around the stage, bellowing out his lines and his varied frantic movements expertly conveying his range of emotions and anxieties. With intense concentration, he builds a large model railway on the stage floor prior to his departure from home. Increasingly magnificent pieces magically appear through a series of secret hatches in the cube as he rushes from side to side. Avoiding physical and eye contact whenever possible, the slight fingertip connection required by his parents to indicate calmness and forgiveness is alarmingly poignant.
Stuart Laing’s performance as his father appears effortless. He is shown as a man who clearly loves his son deeply yet struggling to cope with his behavioural problems. His character is brilliantly constructed and played to perfection. He is rewarded with the audience’s empathy. Gina Isaac, who plays Christopher’s Mum, initially appears mid-way through the First Act as a vision of kindness and loveliness as Christopher recollects a memory to his teacher, Siobhan. As the show continues we are shown her faults and weaknesses as she struggles with the guilt and repercussions of leaving her son. Again, faultless, engaging and highly convincing. Geraldine Alexander plays Siobhan, whilst also taking a lead role, amongst others, as our narrator. She provides a calming and comforting aspect to the play as she encourages Christopher to record his investigations in a book and turn his record of events into a play. The whole cast are fantastic as they play an incredible mixture of characters and roles throughout, providing a constant stage presence which adds balance, humour and depth to the story.
After the intense turmoil, we start to see relationships that were shattered being rebuilt and great accomplishments achieved. A young man is observed as he comes of age and discovers he has hidden strengths and resources as he is forced to push against his previous boundaries and, ultimately achieves great things. We are left as he asked some probing questions about his future. They remain in the air as the play concludes.
A masterpiece. Wonderfully absorbing. The best show I have ever seen.
Tickets cost from £11.90 to £38.90 (plus £4 transaction fee).
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is at the Bristol Hippodrome until 8 August 2015. For more information or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 0844 871 3012.
Bristol Hippodrome, St Augustine’s Parade, Bristol, BS1 4UZ | 0844 871 3012