BWW Review: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME at Entertainment Centre Theatre

BWW Review: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME at Entertainment Centre TheatreReviewed by Barry Lenny, Tuesday 31st July 2018.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a multi-award-winning play, adapted by Simon Stephens from the 2003 multi-award-winning book by Mark Haddon, and directed by Marianne Elliott for the National Theatre of Great Britain. It premiered in 2012 and has toured the world.

Christopher John Francis Boone is fifteen and a bit, loves mathematics and caring for his pet rat, Toby, but is socially inept. He is on the autism spectrum. He lives with his father, Ed, a boiler engineer, who has told Christopher that his mother, Judy, had died. At seven minutes past midnight, he discovers Mrs. Shears's large dog, Wellington, dead from being speared with a garden fork. Mrs. Shears lives alone, her husband having left her for another woman. He is accused of the killing and so he sets out to solve the crime, against the commands of his father. Armed with a notebook in which he records every detail, calling it a 'murder mystery novel', he goes beyond anywhere that he has been before which, without somebody accompanying him, as it happens, was the end of his road. He must overcome his loathing of being touched and his fear of strangers in order to carry out his investigation. He meets people to whom he has never previously spoken, even though they live in the same street, and uncovers family secrets after his father confiscates the book and Christopher goes to find it. He then begins a long journey from his home in Swindon, Wiltshire, to London.

The performance began with a deafening crash of electronic sounds, enough to cause many of the audience to jump and even exclaim aloud, then came flashing light, images, and actors racing around the stage. It suggests that this is how Christopher's world can overwhelm him. The music is by Adrian Sutton and the sound is by Ian Dickinson.

Next, we were straining our ears trying to hear the performers, even from my seat in row F. I cannot imagine what the people at the back of the room could hear. The cavernous barn, erroneously named a theatre, with its uncomfortable chairs, arranged as required for various functions, is probably more suited to an Amway convention than a serious theatrical performance. Trying to fill that huge space without microphones is a big challenge, although one might have expected actors from the National Theatre of Great Britain to have sufficient projection to cope with that.

The box set, by Olivier and Tony Award-winner, Bunny Christie, consists of three huge black squares covered with white graph lines, reflecting Christopher's love of mathematics. Numerous small blocks are used to represent a vast range of items. Paule Constable's lighting and the video, by Finn Ross, play constantly on these three walls. It is a visually stimulating production.

Although he is only fifteen, Christopher is hoping to sit for the A-Level examination in mathematics. For those outside of the UK, there are two levels of national high school examinations in the General Certificate of Secondary Education or GCSE, generally taken in the final two years. Ordinary or O Levels are taken in the penultimate year and Advanced or A-Levels are taken in the final year, and good results in these is a prerequisite for entry to university degree studies. Christopher's obsession with sitting for this examination is understandable.

The play proper begins with Siobhan, his teacher at a special school, played by Julie Hale, reading his story aloud in his presence and discussing it with him, effectively acting as a narrator as well as a character. Hale is wonderful as the calming influence, the touchstone in Christopher's world. The work has a number of disconnected scenes, the connection between them being provided by Hale's narration, but it is in her interaction with Christopher that we see Hale create a fully believable and sympathetic character.

Siobhan is one of the four main characters, Christopher, of course, his father, Ed, and his mother, Judy being the other three. Joshua Jenkins plays Christopher, giving a sensational performance in this very complex role as a young man who likes everything to be clear cut in black and white and has difficulty coping with the real world where everything is shades of grey and nuance. Jenkins brings an awkward physicality that ideally suits the role, refusing to make eye contact, refusing to touch, and creating a particular way of speaking. His performance is captivating.

His father, Ed, who has been raising Christopher alone for two years since Judy's supposed death from a heart attack is, played by David Michaels. Ed is having difficulty coping with and understanding his son, and he has a violent streak. Michaels gives us a strong characterisation as an angry man, trying hard to control his emotions

Emma Beattie plays his mother, Judy who, as we discover, is alive and well, and living in London with Mr. Shears, her lover. She, too, found life hard coping with Christopher, and Mr. Shears provided comfort that led to an affair. Beattie's portrayal is that of a woman tired from having to cope with her son, day and night, now in a relationship that has gone cold, and it is all in her demeanour.

Six others play multiple characters, including doors and gates, many of which are fleeting caricatures, or two dimensional. It must be remembered that the story is told through Christopher's perceptions and the people he encounters and describes could be very different in reality.

With so many visual effects, and a model train layout, on top of the performances, there is just so much to see in this production but you will need to hurry before it closes.

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From This Author Barry Lenny

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