A murder mystery with a difference, the National Theatre’s (One Man, Two Guvnors, War Horse) clever production of Mark Haddon’s 2003 bestseller is a small adventure story told with blockbuster zeal.
What the vast Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre lacks in atmosphere it makes up for in size. The huge airplane hangar-like theatre features more than enough room for the impressive stage, basically a giant multipurpose cube, to house the touring production of the best-selling young adult staple.
It begins with a murder (of sorts). Fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone (an impressive Joshua Jenkins) discovers his neighbour’s dog dead thanks to someone’s handiwork with a garden fork.
Christopher is socially awkward. He has behaviour problems and is likely on the autism spectrum. Christopher’s frustrations are heightened for the audience via flashing LEDs from the cube, electronic music and frenetic movement from the many actors on stage. You feel for him. He takes everything literally but is a maths genius. Under suspicion, he doesn’t handle the questioning from the police at all well, reacting violently when touched. Christopher’s father (Stuart Laing) rescues him from the police station. The dad appears constantly exasperated. He’s raising his son on his own as Christopher’s mother died two years ago.
Everything is set in motion for major change as Christopher decides to solve the mystery of the murdered dog, which unlocks another mystery. What follows is an adventure story brilliantly told via stage trickery and a cast consistently changing roles. Adapted for the stage by English playwright Simon Stephens (Sea Wall) and directed by Marianne Elliott (War Horse), the National Theatre production rollicks along at a steady pace with pitch perfect humour inserted at the right moments. It also cleverly breaks the fourth wall. This is indeed a very clever, very slick and very professional production.
The show, however, belongs to Jenkins. The 30-year-old plays 15-year-old Christopher without needing to bow down to teenage or autism stereotypes. He showcases his character’s social frustrations while engaging with the audience. Not an easy balancing act to perfect.
This is blockbuster theatre done right.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time continues at the Entertainment Centre Theatre until Saturday, August 4