I had never heard of this play, never read the book but someone said to me last week, ‘it’s amazing.’ They were right. To begin with the set. Three walls from floor to ceiling, like black graph paper and you’d never know there were doors set into these walls, cupboards and hundreds of lights. Technically this is an ingenious feat of engineering, hours to put in place and even more hours to dismantle at the end of the run, the steam train built before our eyes and then whizzing round the stage, the main character walking along the walls, the pet white rat and the little puppy, all real.
Then we come to the sound. With loud confused chords and flashing lights we are straight into the action, we meet Christopher Boone, 15 years, two months and three days old – he is precise about this but then he’s precise about everything. He has supreme logic, likes making projects and loves broccoli and beans. Christopher attends a special school, he reckons he’s the only sane one there and he wants to sit his A levels and determines he will get an A* – he has high ambitions. Others think he hasn’t a chance, after all, he’s on the autism spectrum and a bit of a handful. This part is played by Joshua Jenkins and although he has many television and film credits this is his debut with the National Theatre and he is impressive. He’s on stage all the time, it’s a strenuous role and his dance training stands him in good stead. He rattles out the dialogue, his mannerisms and facial twitches he learned when he spent hours in special schools talking to the children and their teachers. He brings to the part much of what he learned, his only contact with people is a gentle high five because he can’t tolerate being touched he gets over excited and fails to make it to the toilet.
The story is simple. Christopher discovers his neighbours dog dead in the road with a pitch fork through its body indeed this is the scene before the audience as we take our seats. He is distraught to find the dog, sets himself the project to discover who the killer was and why; this takes him on a journey of discovery and people learn that he is far from stupid, in fact he is something of a genius. With dogged determination he tracks down the killer, discovers his mother isn’t dead as his father tells him and makes his way to her address in London armed only with his father’s credit card and a rolled up sleeping bag.
His journey to London from his home in Swindon is technical wizardry and the cast are choreographed in staccato movements. If ever there was technical and acting team work, it’s illustrated in The Curious Incident. It’s seamless and surreal but then so is Christopher. He can’t have noise, he can’t tolerate the colours yellow or brown, he gets exasperated and lashes out when he can’t cope. But he is lovable and the audience at the opening night performance took him to their hearts. They also realised very quickly that Joshua Jenkins is a phenomenal actor, has to be seen to be believed.
By Anne Hailes
The National Theatre
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Grand Opera House
Until Saturday 17th October 2015