Part murder-mystery, part coming-of-age drama, it’s packed with tiny bundles of theatrical splendour that burst open on stage and leave us questioning our perceptions of normality.
As the audience members file into the Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre, it’s clear we’re about to experience something unusual. The open stage (set by Bunny Christie) is a cube, lined with mathematical grids, its black and white formality in stark contrast to what it contains: the bloodied body of a dead dog, a pitchfork gruesomely protruding from its belly.
Almost without warning the stage erupts into life, actors bouncing in from the wings, the frantic music (Adrian Sutton and Ian Dickinson) and wildly swinging lights (Paule Constable) descending into discordant noise and strobe when the dog is discovered.
The play centres around the mathematically-gifted Christopher (Joshua Jenkins), a young lad struggling to come to terms with the random untidiness of everyday life. He makes it his mission to discover the dog’s murderer, his sleuthing helping him move beyond his own rigidly imposed comfort zone.
Christopher must speak to people he doesn’t know, he must travel outside his immediate environment and, most unnerving of all, he must somehow come to terms with the fact that the man he most trusted, his father, has told him a monumental lie.
Director Marianne Elliott was the recipient of both a Tony and an Olivier award for this beautiful re-imagining of Mark Haddon’s best-selling book, and it’s not hard to see why. Her careful direction has eye-popping visual spectacle sitting comfortably alongside quieter moments of great tenderness.
The scene that has Christopher spinning through outer space as an astronaut is one of many that are sheer joy to watch; his body is lifted and rolled in the hands of the cast as the walls of the set fill with video images (beautifully managed by Finn Ross) of planets, constellations and star showers.
Audience empathy is crucial here and Jenkins’ intuitive, gentle and humorous portrayal immediately endears Christopher to us, his physical and verbal delivery completely engaging, completely believable.
Julie Hale is quietly brilliant as Christopher’s teacher, her calm voice of reason guiding him through difficult moments and helping him tell his story. Christopher’s father (Stuart Laing) and mother (Emma Beattie) also delight with low-key performances that illustrate the difficulties of parenting and remind us of our own human frailties.
Playwright Simon Stephens claims that getting inside the mind of Christopher Boone enabled he and his artistic collaborators “to see our world in a way we never had before”. It’s a gift they are now passing on to their audiences. Don’t miss your chance to receive it.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre until August 4.
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