Writer: Mark Haddon
Adaptor: Simon Stephens
Director: Marianne Elliott
Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
This monster hit of a show is back on the road. Five years after taking London by storm and winning countless awards from runs in the West End and on Broadway it embarks on another UK tour throughout 2017, opening at The Lowry in Salford.
Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel, adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens, directed by Marianne Elliott and with all the production values The National Theatre can throw at it this is a pedigree production. Teenager, Asperger’s sufferer and maths prodigy Christopher Boone (Scott Reid) is fifteen years old, two months and three days and at the start of the story discovers Wellington dead. Next door’s dog has a pitch fork in his side and beginning his investigations Christopher begins to unravel a few more truths than just the canine murdering culprit. Discovering precisely forty-three letters under his father’s bed Christopher learns much more about his mother and father than he had been led to believe.
From the outset Stephens’ script and Elliott’s direction whizzes the story along with speed and alacrity. Told with an ensemble of actors characters meld and merge from one scene to the next. Narration (although told in the most via Christopher’s teacher Siobhan) is shared between throughout the cast who occasionally lean in from their sitting positions at the side of the stage to hear certain elements of the story. The fourth wall with the audience is played with as characters enter from the auditorium and we are repeatedly told that this is, indeed, a play. Despite the technical wizardry on display the creators make sure that the storytelling is never lost and that this is a play that could be told in a studio space with minimal lighting and sound as well as the huge houses it is used to playing.
That said, the technical aspects of the show are spellbinding. Designer Bunny Christie’s block set and mix of projection, audio and visual takes us to the stars and back, via a train trip from Swindon to London and a frightening experience for the naive Christopher on the London Underground. Visually, it is a show hard to rival. To complement this Steven Hoggett and Scott Graham’s (Frantic Assembly) pinpoint movement gives us another window in the precise working of Christopher’s logical mind. But it is the grey areas in Christopher’s black and white, binary world that make the drama of the piece.
As an ensemble cast and with such staging, the acting must be tight and exact and for the most part it is. Marks are hit and cues are snapped up but it seems that this rigour, at times, is at the expense of the emotive. Having seen the production previously it lacked the moments of real connection with the audience. We come close when Christopher’s mother, Judy, (Emma Beattie) roars like a wounded animal upon discovering that he had thought she had died. As the father, Ed, (David Michaels) growls his way through much of the production begging the question of how his voice will last the stress of nine months on tour. In particular, his moment of pure despair and regret when he sees Christopher surrounded by the concealed letters from his mother should have had much more power. As Christopher Scott Reid has the character of a lifetime. Never leaving the stage Christopher’s journey becomes ours. Our eyes begin to see the curious world he sees and our minds perhaps begin to understand a little. Reid delivers a good performance although he, like some of the other characters, could let us in just a little more.
The production, with an entirely new cast, has mastered the technicality of this mammoth show. So fast-paced is it, at times, an assault to the senses as scenes are told in bursts and crash from one to the next. What remains at the heart of the play, faithful to the novel, is the idea of size and its subjectivity. What, in life, is big and what is small? And where does importance lie? Seeing the world through Christopher’s eyes this is something Haddon and Stephens want us to question.
As the run progresses this production will relax a little and allow the space and time it needs for us to take a moment and question this too.
Runs until 4th February 2017 | Image: Brinkhoff MÂgenburg