Based on Mark Haddon’s acclaimed novel, this play follows the story of Christopher Boone. he is a fifteen year old gifted mathematician and excellent retention of memory who also has difficulties with social interaction.
One evening, Christopher finds the dead body of his neighbour’s dog, Wellington, with a garden fork speared in it. Despite his father’s demands, Christopher decides to take on the role of detective and investigate Wellington’s murder… an act that will have consequences not only for Christopher, but for the people who live around him.
I have attempted to read Mark Haddon’s novel and found it a difficult piece of literature to get my head round – especially as I have to fit my reading around my “day job”. Despite this, I was determined to see this stage adaptation of the book and, thanks to the National Theatre’s scheme which enables a limited number of tickets to be bought for £15 per performance, I managed to attend the current production at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End.
From what I have read so far of the book (before I had to give it up), this adaptation by Simon Stephens is faithful to the tone set in the book. That said, unlike the novel which is written in the first person from Christopher’s point of view, the play is told via his tutor, Siobhan.
As with the novel, the play never tags the character of Christopher with the terms “autism” or “Asperger’s spectrum”. Instead, the audience is given an insight into his world not only through the actors performances but through the clever set design that becomes, in effect, Christopher’s inner thought processes to show emotions ranging from his imaginative nature when he speaks of wanting to become an astronaut and take his pet rat, Toby, into space so that he can be away from people through to the cacophony of sights, sounds and sensations in the scenes which involve his first solo train journey.
To tie in with the stage design, Adrian Sutton, who previously worked on the score for the National Theatre’s long running hit “War Horse”, has created an electronic soundtrack for this production which echoes Christopher’s state of mind ranging from the peace and tranquility of moments when he thinks about his mother contrasting with his moments of anxiety and being overwhelmed by his emotions and thought processes. (I don’t want to say too much due to spoilers for people who are looking to see this production or who haven’t read the book).
The performance I went to see was led by the alternate performer for Christopher, Abram Rooney. Abram’s performance worked hand-in-hand with the other elements to create a fully rounded character that focuses on who Christopher is as a person who has dreams, aspirations and questions about life in general which people may have thought about but never vocalised such as the existence of God or his future after his A level in Maths, rather than keying into any medical condition attributed to his world view.
Christopher’s main interaction for the play is with his father and Nicolas Tennant gives a fantastic performance in the role of Ed. Nicolas has to convey a range of complex emotions – concern for his son’s welfare, his wish for Christopher to have the best chances available to him and his exasperation at his role as a single parent.
The character of Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher, is as important as Christopher himself – certainly in the theatrical interpretation – as she not only has to be one of his main supporting structures but also, at times, Christopher’s voice as she tells his story from the journal that she encourages him to write. Sarah Woodward invests the character with not only compassion but a desire to challenge Christopher to develop and grow not only intellectually but as a person.
Another significant character within Christopher’s universe is his mother and Emily Joyce gives a emotional and human performance in the role of Judy.
Given the amount of information that the audience need to assimilate within the production, there were points where I did lose concentration and I will benefit from going to see this adaptation again.
The play has an audience suitability of people aged 11+. However, this age rating needs to come with a guidance that it contains a fair amount of swearing including the “F-word”. That said, I loved this production and I will be looking to not only watch this production when it comes to the Lowry in Salford later this year, but actually finish Mark Haddon’s book.