Here is a play that really lives up to the description “stunning”. It’s stunning in several ways. The clarity with which it depicts the thought processes of the mind of its Asperger Syndrome afflicted main character, Christopher Boone, is stunning.
Also stunning are the deeply revealing performance by Joshua Jenkins, the actor who portrays Christopher Boone, the inventiveness of Marianne Elliott’s award-winning direction, and the imaginative way the stage design embraces technology to enable complicated mathematical equations and shifts in perspective to become thrilling theatrical experiences.
Christopher Boone is a fifteen-year-old boy who, seven minutes after midnight, discovers Wellington, his neighbour’s dog, dead, having been speared with a pitch fork. Christopher has an extraordinary brain, is exceptional at maths, but ill-equipped to interpret daily life.
He’s never ventured beyond the end of his road alone. He detests being touched. He distrusts strangers. Nevertheless, he decides to set out on a mission to discover who killed Wellington and his detective work, forbidden by his father, takes him on a frightening journey that turns his world upside down.
It’s how Christopher’s journey is depicted, a combination of storytelling and spectacle that makes this production so compelling. Christopher uses mathematics as his mechanism for expression. His world is depicted as a black box in which the walls and floor are covered with grids on which he scribbles equations to explain his thoughts.
At times he breaks the fourth wall to talk to the audience direct. In the first act, while he does this, he also puts together his train set, complete with buildings and trees, which, miraculously, comes alive as the scene climaxes.
His relationship with his estranged parents, played affectingly by Emma Beattie and Stuart Laing, is sometimes brutal, and it seems that the only person he really trusts with his innermost thoughts is his therapist, Siobhan (Julie Hale). All efforts to break through his defences, by his parents, his mother’s lover (Oliver Boot), a kindly station policeman (Bruce McGregor) and a variety of other people encountered during his journey are rebuffed. Not even the gift of an adorable puppy, by his father, is enough to win him over.
Yet, so clearly are his thought processes depicted, that it’s impossible not to be drawn into siding with Christopher and empathizing with his apparent intransigence. Which is why his final joyful declaration “I can do anything”, proves so surprisingly unnerving and worrying.
As stunning as it most certainly is as a theatrical tour-de-force, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is also enlightening, entertaining and absorbing. Don’t miss it!
The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time
Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Wednesday 27 June 2018
Roslyn Packer Theatre, 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay (Sydney)
Season: 4 – 28 July 2018
Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre, Corner Port Road and Adam Street, Hindmarsh
Season: 31 July – August 2018
His Majesty’s Theatre, 825 Hay Street, Perth
Season: 8 – 19 August 2018
For more information, visit: www.curiousincident.com.au for details.
Image: Joshua Jenkins as Christopher Boone in The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time – photo by Brinkhoff / Mögenburg
Review: Bill Stephens OAM