Published in The Student Advertiser, August 2015.
Sad at heart, thumbs ready to resume twiddling, I remember returning my 3rd year English class text, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, on my way out of the classroom, watching from the door as the cardboard box whimpered beneath the weight on its way to next year’s class.
Hearing that Curious had been adapted for stage, and was winning prestigious theatrical titles left, right and centre, its scheduled arrival in Glasgow was something I intended not to miss. Upon arrival at the Kings Theatre, we were greeted by a gentleman’s hysterical arms attempting to guide us to our seats above a mass of chattering shoulders and thick, muggy clam. It appeared I was not the only person itching to see Haddon’s literary genius brought to life on stage.
Christopher Boone is 15-years-3-months-and-two-days old, and he attends a school for pupils with special needs. He suffers from, what he identifies as, behavioural problems and due to the cautious actions of those around him, he is never explicitly told what his problem really is. The other children in this school attend because of their epilepsy or learning difficulties but Christopher, who suffers from Asperger Syndrome (AS), is there because his poor social understanding finds him so confused that he reacts with substantial behavioural problems: blocking his ears, yelling, hitting people. All of these symptoms are triggered when things do not go according to his plan, by loud noises or vast crowds of diverse people where facts are not as simple as ‘black and white’. He is also incredibly logical and intends to be the youngest person to sit his A-Level maths in Britain.
The story begins with the curious sight of his neighbour’s dog, who has been killed with a pitch-fork, where there is zero evidence to support Christopher’s innocence. He ignores his father’s command not to poke his nose in around other people business, taking on the role of his idol Sherlock Holmes to uncover the mystery of poor, dead Wellington the dog. In the small neighbourhood he calls home, his AS is a powerful tool for exposing social relationships within the tight community, including the mystery surrounding his dead mother.
The story was brought to life on stage in what can only be described as a five-sided cube – the open end being the audience. Geometric squares, lights, large white cuboids and lots of imagination enabled the audience to envisage the picturesque neighbourhood between the walls of the hollow cube. The orderly fashion of the stage was a clear tribute to Christopher’s need for alignment and precision. Utilising some of theatre’s lesser-known enhancements, we are very much brought into the deepest crevices of Christopher’s mind – including the geometric squared flooring which did transform periodically into an interactive chalk board whereby writing could be projected on screen.
Joshua Jenkins (a Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama graduate) could not have provided a more flawless portrayal of Haddon’s Boone. Spending the entire duration of the production on stage must be challenging enough, but to ask Jenkins to do-so as Christopher Boone meant the audience were quite simply mind-blown. His game stayed strong throughout the three-hour long production. The entire supporting cast worked seamlessly as the ideal accompaniment to his performance, no doubt as responsible for the production’s success as Jenkins himself.
As rib-achingly funny as Christopher’s story is, there is a hard message to be taken from the tale of The Curious Incident. Christopher’s naiveté means he struggles with not only AS but his father’s temper and his mother’s stress, which spills over into depression. His parents, like many, struggle with the upbringing of a child with Asperger Syndrome, though, their feeble attempts at reassuring him that he is loved look merely for their own peace of mind rather than his.
This tale is not a story about people with AS. This isn’t even a story about a boy who solves a murder. You could go as far as saying that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a reflection of how society treats people with mental illness and how ignorant we can be towards that. So, in that respect, this story is about ourselves.