An on-fire performance of Simon Stephens’ adaptation of this absorbing, bittersweet and alluring story
The short run time of productions, money and the sheer wealth of theatre on offer, mean that I rarely see plays twice. Even different productions of classics have me thinking twice – do I need to see Henry V again? (maybe this time the English loose?). But Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, the Simon Stephens’ adaptation of Mark Haddon’s wonderful book, would stand up to countless viewings. I saw it for the first time at the poor crumbling Apollo a couple of years ago, before the show literally brought the roof down and again recently, this time with the touring company at the Theatre Royal, Bath.
The show dazzled as much the second time around. We all know Christopher Boone’s story, or we think we do. The tale of the 15-year-old’s mission to find out who killed Wellington, his next door neighbour Mrs Shears’, dog, has broken free of the confines of the page and taken on a cultural life of its own like Bridget Jones and Sherlock Holmes. We know Curious Incident is funny and that Christopher is charming, but his innocence tricks you into thinking that this is a fluffy tale of a young boy playing detective. But both times I’ve seen the production I have been taken aback by the sadness that seeps through it, the heartbreak of a family’s struggle to hold themselves together in a world that doesn’t like difference and where individuality is drowned out by the conventional.
That said it is still very funny, the juxtaposition of Christopher’s childlike voice with his super maths brain, his occasional pomposity and his sharp tongue throw-up some belly laugh comic moments. There is also some lovely interaction between Christopher and another neighbour the Swindon Town-supporting, trainer wearing Mrs Alexander whose west country accent, Steve Jobs style sneaks and affection for Christopher was visual amusing and emotionally touching.
Joshua Jenkins plays Christopher like he was born for the role, totally convincing despite being 12 years older than the character. It’s a demanding part and one that has to strike a balance between comedic, empathetic and sympathetic without being twee and patronising, but Jenkins managed the acting tightrope with no wobbles. He was supported by terrific cast. I particularly liked Siobhan played by Geraldine Alexander as Christopher’s kindly teacher and the production’s narrator. I also enjoyed Roberta Kerr as Mrs Alexander.
But challenging all the actors for our attentions is the fantastic set that as much a part of the storytelling as the script and the acting. Bunny Christie’s design is a visual aid to the inner workings of Christopher’s mathematically rich mind that is so smoothly integrated into the story that you also almost don’t notice its cleverness.
Curious Incident is joyous, funny, touching dramatic and gripping first, second – and, I’m willing to bet, even third – time around.