Writer: Mark Haddon
Adaptor: Simon Stephens
Director: Marianne Elliott
Cast back to May 2017 and The Review Hub’s sound-bite summary – ‘Sets the synapses sizzling.’ Nigh on five years later does this latest production maintain the vim, the vavoom – has the original dogged velocity of curiosity still got its bite? With more accolades and awards leaving the most complete Oxtail Book of Superlatives struggling to keep up (seven 2013 Olivier Awards to be getting on with) the timeless adage, ‘If it works – don’t fix it’, says it all. The original National Theatre production harks back to 2012. Clearly, they’ve been barking up the correct money-tree ever since – Covid very much notwithstanding.
The novel’s first-person narrative is one of a fractured, fractal perspective. Protagonist Christopher, played tonight with visceral intensity and shivering vulnerability by Connor Curren, occupies a self-preservation, alternative universe troubled by anxious driven perplexities of uncertainty and disorder. His savant, mathematic brilliance provides a protective construct retreat in a world where the seeming, and actual, idiosyncratic behaviour of his frustrated parents and neighbours ranges from ridiculous to frightening. The savvy dramatic conceit of Christopher maintaining an external projection of the novel’s text through the character of Siobhan (Rebecca Root) as a rolling/roving amanuensis and struggling anchor for Christopher’s storm-tossed confusions, is both comfortable and convincing. The problem with Christopher is one of compulsive honesty. With everyday societal interactions reliant on the convenient necessity of ‘white lies’, his clinical truths are on a collision course with a meta-reality he finds inexplicable. A problem likewise shared by his estranged parents, Ed and Judy, characters in turmoil and near end-of-tether stretched to breaking point, both roles fine-tuned and humanely embraced by Tom Peters and Kate Kordel.
The furious, mind-mosaics ever-shifting inside the kaleidoscopic thoughts of fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone, are projected as a surround-stage, psyche-map, digital diorama. Picture 2001: A Space Odyssey ‘Star-Gate’ sequence impressed upon a quasi-laser-beamed 3D map of the London Underground/M25 global network – at beyond light-speed. And then there are the astounding sound sculptures and music enough to eroticise the ears beyond all decency conjured up by Ian Dickenson, Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett.
There are so many tech/design credits deserved but for necessities’ sake Designer, Bunny Christie and Lighting Designer, Paule Constable must suffice, notwithstanding the balletic/mime very hands-on physical theatrics of Frantic Assembly.
Director, Marianne Elliott, ever sharp to tweak, tease and nuance the wry pathos and comic subtlety of Simon Stephens’ empathic adaptation sets the bar very high indeed. The glorious Ensemble cast is ever inspired to leap over it with ecstatic self-reassurance. Though plot spoilers have been spilled by word of foot & mouth/social media, it would be churlish to make them here a matter of record. Perhaps the revelation of Wellington the dog’s terminal interface with a gardening fork lacks the novel’s impact. Nevertheless, his skewered remains at the show’s opening scene certainly silenced the many school kids present more immediately than their dedicated teachers could ever have wished for. No canine-cadaver ‘selfies’ were in evidence.
The show’s ever remaining highlight for many will be Christopher’s neural-nightmare journey from sleepy Swindon by train to the nerve-taut transition across the London Underground – a triumph for the ensemble cast’s atomic-clock timing and coordinated movement. As for Toby the rat’s platform-jump escape escapade? It’s an – oh no, ro-don’t go there – look away now – moment not to be missed.
Shamelessly The Matrix influenced, this is a hot-ticket, teenage kick-ass magnet morality-tale. A pixel-powered punch to the brain-pan – miss it and mourn for your humanity.
Runs Until 2 April 2022 and on tour