The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Review – Leeds Grand
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Review
Leeds Grand, August 2015
by Sandra Callard
Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, about a teenage boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, was a runaway success and winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year award in 2003. The cumbersome title is from a quote by Sherlock Holmes in his story, Silver Blaze. The book is now adapted for the stage. It won seven drama awards when it was staged by the National Theatre, and is currently touring, so I went along to the Grand Theatre in Leeds to see how Simon Stephens’ adaptation of such a tricky and potentially controversial novel panned out.
Christopher discovers the dead body of Wellington, the neighbour’s dog, in the garden. The dog has been brutally killed by using a garden fork. Christopher turns detective as he attempts to discover who is the perpetrator. He writes down everything he learns in a book, which his kind-hearted teacher reads and decides it would make a good play. Geraldine Alexander plays the teacher Siobhan with grace and charm. She narrates pages from the book throughout the show. This sounds like an unwieldy kind of plot, but it does flow amazingly well.
“Tries to understand the world”
Joshua Jenkins takes on the role of Christopher Boone. A 15-year-old who is, as Christopher himself describes, ‘someone who has a behavioural condition’. Haddon disliked the Asperger’s tag that appeared on the cover of the first edition of his book. He prefers Christopher’s description of himself. Jenkins turns in a truly remarkable performance.
He displays the agonising and poignant moments of Christopher’s distress as he tries to understand the world around him. But also depicts his astounding intelligence as his genius for maths takes flight.
Christopher’s mother, Judy, beautifully played by Gina Isaacs, has had an affair and left home. His father Ed tells him she has died. Stuart Laing turns in a masterly performance as a bitter, deserted husband. He loves his son desperately but has neither the will nor the knowledge to show him that love. Christopher finds letters from his mother which his father has hidden.
Then Ed also reveals that it was he who had killed Wellington, albeit accidentally. Fearful that his father will also kill him, Christopher sets off to find his mother in London, complete with pet rat, Toby. He has never before traveled beyond the end of his road. He cannot bear anyone touching him. A terrifying journey is ahead of him.
“Suspenseful as any thriller”
The play is staged in a cleverly-designed black box by Bunny Christie. There’s outstanding use of projections by Finn Ross that create different locations and key images. The beautiful and spectacular backboard of moving lights by Paule Constables draw you into Chris’s tumultuous mental world. Highlighted by the tumbling numbers and chaotic London tube stations that flash in front of us, just as they flash through Christopher’s mind.
Complicated mathematical formulae vies with underground instructions, as Christopher battles through the unknown to find his mother. His terrifying experiences aboard a train and on the London Underground are painful to watch. The boy’s tentative reaching on to the track to rescue his pet rat is as tense and suspenseful as any thriller.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is is a top-notch, moving and spectacular adaptation by Simon Stephens of a book of the same ilk. It is faithfully rendered and beautifully presented. A triumph in every way.