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Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at Theatre Royal, Newcastle

Theatre Royal stages sensational adaptation of Mark Haddon's best-selling novel about a dead dog and a very special boy

*****
Joshua Jenkins as Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Joshua Jenkins as Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Seeing this show in the West End, I sat mesmerised throughout and finished up with a lump in my throat and the ecstatic ovation of a largely schools audience ringing in my ears.

But I was seated dead centre of the second or third row from the stage.

Could I have been seduced by this privileged position where you imagine flaws could be disguised by sheer shock and awe?

No, I was not. I can say that emphatically now.

On a second viewing – different production, different cast, different seat – I was still left marvelling and musing. Once again, I was hugely moved.

It’s a play about innocence against cynicism, about triumph over adversity, about the general dross which life hurls at people who have something about them worth nurturing.

It began, of course, as a hugely successful debut novel by Mark Haddon whose story is told through the eyes of Christopher Boone, aged 15 and somewhere, we deduce, on the autism spectrum.

He can’t tell lies or understand metaphors, doesn’t like to be touched and is happy with a rat for company.

Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Joshua Jenkins (Christopher) and the cast of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Joshua Jenkins (Christopher) and the cast of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
 

The discovery of his neighbour’s dog Wellington, dead with a garden fork in his side, sets him off on a mission, with us for company, to find the killer.

En route the messiness of his situation becomes apparent – the domestic rows and infidelities that swirl around him as he escapes into the ordered worlds of algebra, of computing, of outer space. One mission morphs into another, much bigger one.

Playwright Simon Stephens brilliantly turned book into script and the National Theatre, aided by the movement specialists of Frantic Assembly and wonderful use of stage props and technology, created a show to do it justice.

In fact, they have created and re-created it. This touring version, having to fit into different theatres around the country, is a touch different to the West End version but only in small ways.

It is still a fantastic outward depiction of the inner workings of Christopher’s mind.

The actors in this show will be fit. You will be amazed at some of the carrying and lifting they have to do to bring the boy’s flights of fancy to life on stage.

Several actors have now played Christopher and Joshua Jenkins is as good as any, conveying the spiky vulnerability of someone you will root for while appreciating the challenge he presents to those who care for him.

His parents, played by Stuart Laing and Gina Isaac, are decent but flawed, like so many of us.

His teacher, Siobhan (Geraldine Alexander), is his rock and at times his alter ego. She voices some of his thoughts, reading from the journal in which the boy documents his detective work.

I’ve mentioned a few of the cast but this is very much an ensemble piece and all are good (you might catch Chris Ashby standing in as Christopher during some performances).

One word of advice, though – do stay until the end. I mean, right to the end... beyond the final applause. You won’t regret it.

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