I usually write theatre reviews on my Tumblr blog, but last night I saw a performance that appealed to my passion for design as much as it did to my love for the arts: the National Theatre UK tour of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Mark Haddon's novel written from the perspective of Christopher, a 15-year-old lad with Asperger's sydrome, was released in 2003, when I was a relatively new Waterstones bookseller. Already receiving attention, the title won the Whitbread Award soon after, which overnight saw it become the book that everyone was talking about. I'm not very receptive to hype when it comes to literature, I prefer to read novels that are on the fringe of popularity, but I bit the bullet and bought a copy. It was a very wise decision.
The story begins with Christopher discovering the carcass of his neighbour's dog, a garden fork protruding from its body. Rather than feeling sadness, fear or numb shock as the rest of us would, he instead assesses the situation with the cool, composed confidence of someone with his condition, deciding that he will "do detecting" and uncover the killer.
One of the book's unique features is the use of maps, graphs, diagrams and icons to explain the way in which Christopher thinks. I wasn't sure how this could be effectively conveyed in a play, but thanks to a wonderful combination of inspired visual design and state-of-the-art lighting elements incorporated into the entire stage, the audience goes from being calmly educated one moment, to diving into frantic environments of confusion, mayhem and anxiety the next. It really is beautifully done, and there isn't a scene that doesn't make use of this very clever setup.
The show is surely stolen by Joshua Jenkins, the actor behind Christopher (played by Chris Ashby in some performances), who takes the character's polarities of sharp brilliance and debilitating awkwardness to present a boy that many find exasperating, yet who is kind, honest, dedicated and, hidden beneath a veneer of hypersensitive pedantry, very loving.
The supporting cast do a cracking job of creating the world in which Christopher lives, including an affectionate dad occasionally pushed to breaking point, a relaxed and encouraging care worker, a motley selection of neighbours, a chucklesome reverend and a Paddington Station employee with attitude. The result is the perfect ensemble to bring this entertaining, thought-provoking and socially important story to life in a way that is accessible, impressive, moving and unforgettable.
Do I think you should go see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time during its UK tour or at the Gielgud Theatre in London? Yes. Good God, yes! This is the best piece of theatre I've seen in a very long time. Hell, it's the best show I've ever seen, full stop. Regardless as to whether you've read the book, and even if your tastes are completely different to my own, I can't imagine that you'll leave the theatre without a smile on your face and new notions in your head. After all, it's not every day that you enter the mind of someone who knows all of the constellations and can recite a long succession of prime numbers from memory, yet won't eat anything that's yellow or brown and likes to hide in the boiler cupboard.
Author: Rich Sutherland, @beardybiscuits
Photos of the UK Tour Cast by Brinkoff and Mogenburg.