Produced by The National Theatre
Based on the novel by Mark Haddon
Adapted by Simon Stephens
Directed by Marianne Elliott
18th December 2014-10th January 2015
I hadn’t heard much about the stage version of Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, apart from that it had been very well-received, and that tickets for its run at The Lowry were selling like hot cakes. I’d read the book – the story of 15-year-old Christopher, who finds the titular dog dead one night and determines to find its killer – and knew it to be the most famous work of fiction about a character on the autistic spectrum to capture the public imagination in recent years. But as for what the play would be like, I hadn’t a clue, even as I headed to my standing spot at the very top, and the very back, of The Lowry’s Lyric Theatre (hot cakes, I told you!).
The show takes place inside a glowing cube, each surface divided into squares like giant sheets of graph paper. This well-ordered space represents Christopher’s logical, mathematical mind, but is also adapted by myriad inventive of tricks of lighting, projection and props to represent settings from an entire street of houses to a moving train, complete with trees and houses whizzing by its windows. Often we are taken into Christopher’s world as he struggles with his feelings or with busy environments: projected words flood the walls and ceiling, booming and screeching sounds blast out around us, and hundreds of coloured lights flash, trying to simulate his overloaded senses. Seamless movement pieces represent the rhythms of a busy underground station and the chaos of inner-city London, but also Christopher’s bittersweet memories of his estranged mother and his dreams of becoming an astronaut.
Twenty-seven-year-old Joshua Jenkins gives a convincing performance as Christopher, with a much-needed lightness of touch that avoids merely aping an awkward teenager. His mother and father are both drawn with nuance, too, as they each struggle with their parental role. The staging is impressive, as mentioned, and the ensemble are slick and professional.
There’s just one thing that rankles. This is a show made by and for neurotypical people. There may be captioned, signed and audio described dates at the Lowry, but there are no relaxed performances. Indeed, a relaxed performance would have to involve significant changes to the show – while the loud noises and flashing lights make a reasonable job of simulating sensory overload for people without autism, they would cause a great deal of suffering to many who do live with the condition. Is this the best way to make a show about a boy with Asperger Syndrome?
Curiously enough, whenever Curious Incident tries its hardest to take us inside Christopher’s mind, it reminds us most pointedly that we don’t usually live there. Perhaps representing Christopher’s thoughts and feelings onstage using every theatrical bell and whistle makes for a more spectacular show, but there is an argument that sensationalising, almost fetishising, autism in this way does little to increase the public’s understanding of the real lives of those who live with the condition.
Curious Incident was named Time Magazine’s top theatrical experience of last year. In 2015, I’d like to see a show that is written and performed by people on the autistic spectrum achieve the same stratospheric success. Sadly, I’m not sure that I will.
I saw Curious Incident with Georgina – read her review here.