16-21 February 2015
Reviewed by Shelley Owens
With a title reminiscent of a Sherlock Holmes mystery, you could be forgiven for thinking this play is little more than a good old fashioned detective story but nothing could be further than the truth. With set design and production that will blow your mind, this stage adaptation of the book of the same name challenges the audience on every level.
The Wolverhampton Grand Theatre welcomes many touring companies but this has to be one of the most memorable plays I have ever seen there! Arriving at our much loved 120 year old Victorian theatre we were welcomed by friendly staff and a familiar pre-show buzz in the bar. Opening night always feels a little bit special and there was a definite feel of anticipation as we climbed the sweeping staircase to the Grand Circle to take our seats.
Fifteen-year old Christopher has an extraordinary brain; he is exceptionally intelligent but ill-equipped to interpret everyday life yet is mathematically brilliant. When he falls under suspicion for killing his neighbour’s dog, Wellington, he sets out to solve the mystery. His detective work, forbidden by his father, leads to an earth-shattering discovery and a journey that will change his life forever.
Although Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome themselves are never mentioned in this moving adaptation of Mark Haddon’s award winning novel, it is clearly established that Christopher sees the world in a very special way. His difficulty with social interaction, relationships and processing sensory information manifest themselves in violent outbursts, strange noises, blocking his ears and wandering off to avoid confrontation and conflict. He has an incredibly logical brain and uses mathematics and patterns to help him navigate his way through an increasingly confusing world as the adults around him send his world into chaos. Unable to tell a lie, his often brutal honesty is laced with humour as the audience are drawn into Christopher’s world.
Mathematics provides a safe place for Christopher to escape to and the stunning set design by Bunny Christie draws on this. In sharp contrast to the beautiful period features of The Grand Theatre, the stage is transformed into a minimalistic cube with the floor, rear and side walls resembling graph paper. Clever lighting and projected imagery leave the audience wondering where the walls end and the floor begins! Hidden compartments and doorways appear and disappear with a series of white stage blocks that are used to represent anything from a simple chair to a dirty toilet on a train. Nothing is ever quite what it seems and when not in character, the cast sit for the most part, at the side of the stage ready to glide seamlessly to and from the centre stage as needed giving this incredibly physical production a fluid, dance like feel.
The highlights of this incredible imagery and use of physical theatre are Christopher imagining himself to be an astronaut, lifted into the air by the cast and the sensory overloaded train and tube station scenes, seemingly chaotic yet incredibly choreographed! As Christopher’s senses are overloaded so too are the audiences, with flashing lights and images, synthesised music and members of the cast all swimming about stage and a bewildered Christopher at the centre of it all.
Joshua Jenkins is brilliant in this incredibly demanding role. Not only is the entire play heavy with dialogue, his role requires him to take on the physical characteristics of someone struggling with life on the Autistic Spectrum. Violent physical outbursts, fidgeting, lack of eye contact, avoiding physical contact, carrying out routine tasks in a frenzied manner, Jenkins energy must be relentless and he has certainly done his homework!
This is definitely a play of two halves with the first act focussing on Christopher’s relationship with his troubled father who is parenting alone following the “death” of his wife two years earlier. Stuart Laing gives a strong performance as a father struggling to cope and in spite of his violent outbursts the audience are encouraged to empathise with him. We also establish Christopher’s behavioural issues and compulsions as his investigation unfolds forcing him to interact with his neighbours balanced by the calming influence of his teacher Siobhan whose character is also our narrator and Christopher’s “voice of reason” in his own head during times of turmoil. The calm, angelic voice of Geraldine Alexander (Siobhan) is a constant throughout the play and it is she who encourages him to write down his investigations in a book and turn it into a play, an idea which horrifies him as acting in a play is “pretending to be something you are not and that is a lie” something Christopher himself cannot do and detests in the adults around him. The climax of this act is the discovery of a terrible truth, sending him into meltdown as his world spirals out of control.
Act two is visually incredible and by far the most impressive piece of theatre production I have ever seen. Our young hero’s world has been thrown into turmoil and he finds himself compelled to push beyond his own boundaries and an incredible journey begins. We see relationships shattered and rebuilt, great things achieved and a brilliant but vulnerable young man come of age, realising that he can do anything!
Simon Stephens has taken an incredible novel and created something wonderful, an emotionally charged, visually captivating, dramatically ironic and thought provoking play that challenges audiences on enough levels to keep them talking for many years to come.
This is a MUST SEE production and the play runs at The Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 21st February – if you don’t see another show this year, make sure you see this one because it will stay with you forever!
A resounding 5/5 from us for all the right reasons!
Tickets cost from £17.50 to £31.50 (plus £3 booking fee).
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton until 21 February 2015. For more information or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 01902 429 212.
The Grand Theatre Wolverhampton, Lichfield Street, Wolverhampton, WV1 1DE