The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time, adapted from Mark Haddon’s novel by Simon Stephens, arrived at Bradford’s Alhambra Theatre for a week in April. The two-act play follows Christopher Boone (Joshua Jenkins), a 15-year old boy with a form of Asperger’s who investigates the death of his neighbour Eileen Shears’ dog. The first act follows his investigation alongside his changing relationship with his father Ed and neighbour Mrs Alexander, whilst the second act focuses on a second plotline centred around his memories and past with his mother Judy and how these memories come back in the present.
Joining the audience for the Thursday matinee showing, the most memorable element of the adaptation was the well-choreographed balance between the roles of the actors and the stage. I’ve seen plenty of impressive sets over the years but the one that graced the Alhambra stage that afternoon was something else – a cube with four filled-in walls onto which various graphics appeared, alongside concealed cupboards holding props and a lighting setup able to portray everything from different houses to an approaching underground train. Combined with multi-purpose light boxes moved around by the cast that became boxes, seats, suitcases and more, it was truly incredible to see the planning that must have gone into making it all work. I haven’t seen such strong visuals in the theatre in a long time, the graphics working with the acting to really set the pace, location and energy of the piece alongside the lead actor’s state of mind.
As Boone, Joshua Jenkins was on stage in almost every scene and he made the most of it. His take on the character was so true to life, clearly portraying his understanding of the character’s personality, fears and emotions alongside his humorous and irritating aspects. Christopher Boone is not the most likeable character, quickly slipping into irritable at times, but you live through the story with him, and the use of the set to reflect the pain, chaos and distress he feels during key plot points is beautifully orchestrated. The cast around him were uniformly excellent, balancing the requirements of the major players alongside smaller bit parts, each also contributing to the movement of props and establishing of set pieces.
It’s difficult to say which cast members stood out as it felt like a group piece, but Clare Perkins was captivating in both her main role of Mrs Shears and other smaller roles, and there were lots of small asides from the cast that made little moments stand out.
I had a couple of small issues with the production – it sometimes felt awkward to laugh out loud at some of the actions, behaviour and language of Christopher when his condition was played for laughs – but the disability was mostly treated with reality and understanding.
The play is wrapped up in so much magic, and the combination of the acting, the set and the pithy script works beautifully. There are several moments of true wonder throughout the production, such as the closing of act one, built up to throughout the first hour, which brings out plenty of childlike glee, along with the underground scenes and a knowing humour about its play-within-a-play style. It was an absolutely joy to watch, with a storming central performance from Joshua Jenkins, and outlined the true dramas and difficulties of raising a child with autism whilst including enough lighter material to keep it balanced.