THIS STAGE ADAPTATION OF MARK HADDON’S ACCLAIMED NOVEL, ‘THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME’, IS A TOUR-DE-FORCE WITH AN ASTONISHING PERFORMANCE AT ITS CORE.
Mark Haddon’s award-winning novel The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-time, had a clever selling point, a mystery featuring a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome as its detective. Wrapped up in this was the conceit that Christopher, the boy in question, was writing the book we were reading as a record of his detective work, so essentially it was a book within a book.
Simon Stephens’ stage adaptation takes this conceit one step further. In the opening scene, Christopher’s teacher, Siobhan, reads from his book, at once providing a voiceover and a window into the boy’s inner thoughts, but as the show progresses, we realise we’re watching a play being staged by Siobhan, based on Christopher’s book.
It’s a fitting layering of conceit in this imagining of a novel that was about so much more than a teenage detective with Asperger’s, or as Christopher (and Haddon) prefers to put it, who has Behavioural Problems. The layering also perfectly transports the funny, generous, poignant spirit of the book to the stage, making for a richly satisfying night at the theatre.
Central to that satisfaction is Joshua Jenkins’ riveting performance as Christopher, which reels from flights of scientific fancy, to unintentional comedy, to almost unbearable vulnerability, but never descends into playing for laughs or sympathy. The construct of the play, from its layering of conceit to its staging, a black box onto which graphics are projected, allows us to fully enter Christopher’s point of view, as he tries to discover who killed his neighbour’s dog (a crime that has been wrongly pinned on him).
The versatility of this black box is another riveting aspect of the production. As it turns from the interior of a moving train to the platform of a busy London Underground station, to a thunderous downpour, to animations of mathematical formulae, it effectively transports the audience beyond the four walls of the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.
As in the novel, the curious incident of the dog is another conceit, a doorway into the exploration of the effect of behavioural problems on family relationships, and this is where the play is at its most painful, particularly in an almost unbearable scene where Christopher concentrates on building a model train set as his father tries to explain a terrible betrayal that was carried out for the sake of his protection. Jenkins is ably backed up by Stuart Laing and Gina Isacc as his parents for these central moments, which bring to aching life the emotional complexities of Haddon’s book.
There are some scenes in the second half that could do with shortening, but this is a minor gripe. For the largest part, thanks mostly to the frenetic honesty of Joshua Jenkins’ extraordinary performance, this is a play that sucks you in and doesn’t let up until the curtain call. And even after that, you just might remain glued to your seat.
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time is at The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until Saturday, October 10, 2015. Booking here.