The tantalizing title hooked me and I devoured Mark Haddon’s 2003 bestseller in record time. Now the reader’s imagination is realized (as mine was) with this theatrical adaptation onstage at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre. Like the novel, the show certainly feeds curiousity.
The reworking of the book premiered at London’s National Theatre in in 2012, winning seven Olivier Awards. Broadway success followed, running for almost two years and winning five Tony Awards, including Best Play.
The stark, funny and original narrative, presented as a detective story, sidesteps the formula of the genre, gleefully misleading the audience, then back tracks to a realistic conclusion.
This is a murder mystery in which fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone, burdened with behavioral difficulties, takes on the responsibility of a sleuth (Sherlock Holmes is his idol) investigating the fate of a neighborhood dog. The youngster has exceptional intelligence though ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. His medical disorder is a form of autism associated with Asperger’s syndrome. The condition forms the basis of this relatively simple story of an outsider struggling to understand the breakdown of everything that’s familiar and comforting to him.
A fussy kid, Christopher takes everything at face value. Metaphors confuse him, and hobbled by his ineptness to interpret expressions, best friends and acquaintances are portrayed as numbers. Initially I thought he was a hopeless narrator of the unfolding events, a perplexing blend of reliable and unreliable admissions of facts. But consummate genius lurks inside triggering sensitive vibes to the audience. Christopher confesses to a distaste for fiction, the inability to lie, and to comprehend jokes. He’s also incapable of reading anything but the most basic of human facial expressions. We could understand this complexity as reflection on truth, and reaction to the misunderstanding of life’s daily circus.
When Christopher falls under suspicion for killing his neighbor’s dog, he sets out to identify the true culprit, which leads to a shattering discovery and a journey that will change his life forever. Roaming the streets in quest of clues, Christopher walks in ever-widening circles to orient himself. Though he could ask someone for assistance, his malady prevents interaction with strangers, and he cannot stand to be touched.
Technical staging shares the spotlight integrating with the close-knit acting ensemble in a fascinating exhibit of troubling events. Eye filling visuals and plot essentials enliven Christopher’s unusual journey of judicial fulfillment. A kaleidoscopic richness of eruptive images and geometric graphics are projected on a sterile white cube divided by grid lines. It also accomodates several hatches and trapdoors from which a stream of props are retreived. Though it may look and feel sterile, the tragedy is bound up in so much charm, whimsy, good humour and virtuoso staging, it feels comfortable. It’s as though we are transported inside the machine-like, coded order of math prodigy Christopher’s mind, so that we experience events as he does. Most crucially, it immerses us in his disorientation when things prove beyond his understanding.
The curtain rises on a dismaying scene of a large dead dog with a pitch fork piercing its side. Shocking to the audience, but to a traumatized Christopher, a scene that shakes his soul. In a state of despair he wails in emotional pain, wanting to know who the culprit is and why they did it. Christopher meets resistence from the dog’s owner who refuses to speak with him, as well, he’s berated by a terse warning from his father, “Just try and keep your nose out of other people’s business.” Christopher’s mother has been out of his life for two years. He’s an isolated individual in a large world.
Joshua Jenkins (one of two actors alternating the lead role) turns in an exceptional performance. Managing long sections of dialogue while contorting his body in a display of choreography mimicking mood swinging autistic outbursts, Jenkins just sinks into the tormented character. A cast with a diversity of accents, enlightens the plot with their support in various roles lifting the production to a life of its own. The play is a knockout emotional, humorous, life affirming theatrical experience. Loved the book, loved the play.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” is playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto through November 19.