Saturday 10 December 2016

Theatre: A truly dazzling Curious Incident

Ahead of its arrival in Dublin, we preview the remarkable stage adaptation of Mark Haddon's brilliant novel

Published 28/09/2015 | 02:30

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time tells the story of the adventures of 15-year-old Christopher Boone. The National Theatre's adaptation of Mark Haddon's best-selling debut novel won seven Olivier Awards in 2013, which makes its touring production one of the must-see productions of the Dublin Theatre Festival 2015.

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Its week-long Dublin run will take place at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, and having seen the stunning production in advance a few weeks ago at the King's Theatre in Glasgow, I would deem it unmissable.

The story centres around Christopher, who is both narrator and protagonist, and is a maths genius with an autism spectrum condition who attends a school for children with special needs. His best friend is a pet rat called Toby, and when the play opens, we learn that he lives in Swindon with his father Ed, played by Stuart Laing - his mother Judy (Gina Isaac) apparently passed away two years earlier.

When Christopher discovers the dead body of his neighbour's dog, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork, he decides to investigate but comes under suspicion for the murder. In the ensuing fracas with a policeman, he's arrested and released with a caution, and decides to defy his father's orders to leave the matter alone by continuing to investigate the dog's death.

He then runs away to London with Toby after he discovers that his father has lied to him on several important matters, and in particular, that rather than being dead, his mother is happily alive and living in London with another man with no idea that her son believes she has passed away.

The role of Christopher is such an emotionally and physically demanding one, with the character on stage all the time, it is alternated between two actors, On the day I saw it, he was played masterfully and sensitively by Chris Ashby (Skins, Holby City). The young actor skilfully captured the challenges and difficulties experienced by a teenager who is severely limited by his fears and the challenges when interpreting the world around him.

Christopher exhibits behavioural traits of some people with autism, including an intense dislike of being touched. His prodigious talent for mathematics is nurtured by his sympathetic teacher, Siobhan, played beautifully by Geraldine Alexander, and he is taking maths at A-level, but has trouble understanding metaphors. The dog's murder, his parents' rows, infidelity, depression, anxiety and confusion all intrude on his need for order and calmness.

Trying to explain the set is challenging, but picture a futuristic three-sided black box that uses lighting, projection and sound to illustrate a complicated, yet mesmerising, story. It is divided by a network of white lines into smaller black boxes, and at the backstage tour ahead of the show, I was intrigued by the sheer volume of electrical cables and wires attached to the back of the set.

I took my seat prepared to have my senses dazzled, which is appropriate as the set comes into dazzling effect when illustrating Christopher's sensory overload, particularly in the bewildering madness of navigating the streets of London. Whenever the outside world intrudes on his ordered life, the grid explodes into an uncomfortably compelling cacophony of flying fragments of letters and numbers, with dizzyingly dramatic sound and visual projectiles.

I caught a glimpse of the cast doing a movement class to warm up beforehand, as the choreography by movement specialists Frantic Assembly is as skilful as it's physically demanding. I also met the two rats who alternately play Toby. Amateur animal welfare police like me can stand down, as a prosthetic rat deputises for the real one in a dramatic scene where both Christopher and Toby get violently tossed around.

Directed by Tony Award-winning director Marianne Elliott, the cast are superb, with Chris Ashby deserving of being singled out for particular praise. His alternate, Joshua Jenkins, has come in for similar tranches of praise. They manage to convey the complex and often misunderstood world of autism with sympathy and authenticity, and the story is simultaneously funny, sad and emotionally stirring. You will laugh, you will cry, and you'll be angry, but trust me, you'll be more angry with yourself if you miss it.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs at Bord Gais Energy Theare from October 6 - 10 (tickets from www.ticketmaster.ie) as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2015, which runs until October 11.

Sunday Independent

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