Writer: Simon Stephens, based on the novel by Mark Haddon
Director: Marianne Elliott
Reviewer: John Kennedy
Awash with deserved accolades and awards, this National Theatre adaptation of Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel has a devilishly inventive conceit to contend with. How the hell will they stage it? With a narrator and ensemble chorus worthy of a Greek tragi-comedy and technical prowess enough to sizzle the synapses they carry it off with impressive authority and dazzling originality.
A novel within a ‘murder mystery novel’ point-of-view narrative relates how fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone (Scott Reid) discovers neighbour, Mrs Sears’ (Eliza Collings) dead dog skewered to her front lawn with a gardening fork. Assuming the deductive methodology of his hero, Sherlock Holmes, Christopher sets out to unmask the perpetrator. The title comes from a Holmes’ short story, Silver Blaze where a non-barking dog is a red-herring distraction. Incidentally, sometimes near fatally, Christopher hates metaphors – they don’t tell the truth. For him, a metaphor is just a metaphor anyway.
Christopher has Asperger’s syndrome. He partially compensates for this through his mathematical savant brilliance. Prime numbers obsess him and lend stability in a frightening world. His photographic (eidetic) memory, likewise. It will later be his internalised transit map guide across London – a near psychotic episode in Act 2 probably not experienced since Dave Bowman’s 2001 enigmatic Space Odyssey’s ‘My God, it’s full of stars!’
Prime numbers, Pythagorean theorems and much more, feed into the dazzling technical effects and spatial matrices. Christopher’s teacher/confidant, sometimes near guardian angel at Special School, Siobhan, (Lucianne McEvoy) encourages him to write with intimate honesty. Her role as spoken aloud narrator segues seamlessly with the ensemble cast’s mime and physical theatre. This pared to the bone, honed balletic aesthetic bristles with urgent fluidity.
Christopher cannot lie. Two intertwined, plot shifting revelations
have nightmarish but eventual resolving, cathartic consequences. No plot spoilers here, but sufficient enchantments and curious captivations suffice to utterly engage the audience. The production’s narrative clarity and pace are ingeniously augmented by the extraordinary digital/lighting and mathematically disciplined soundscapes.
These projections reference the more innocent, therapeutic ‘emoji’ graphics that Christopher uses in the original diary/novel. What he frantically chalk-sketches out on the floor is recreated on the surrounding three screens. This temporal fragility of literal, linear order is soon thrown into chaos when he encounters the Helvetica-hellish signage vortices at Swindon railway station. (An experience many thousands endure every day paying premium fares for the privilege.)
while crossing London, he frantically descends on to the Underground station tracks to rescue escaped pet rat, Toby. The primal rage of desperation from the platform passengers perfectly captures the howling despair that Christopher’s parents have endured almost beyond their comprehension or capacity to cope with.
Resolutions unfold with satisfying if not predictable sentimentality. among so many special fragments of captured time, the moments’ calm where Christopher shares with his father the thought that the scuttling rain outside may have been brought to them direct from the Gulf of Mexico or Baffin Bay has an enduring, bonding pathos of exquisite, humbling humanity.
Runs until 8 July 2017 and on tour | Image: Brinkhoff Mogenburg