DTF review | The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time : Dazzling spectacle plus simple story is a winning equation

The acclaimed drama of a gifted but different teen’s family investigations yields startling theatrical fireworks

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Bord Gáis Energy Theatre

****

Feted with awards and bulging with box office receipts, the UK’s National Theatre production of Simon Stephens’s adaptation of Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel arrives with all sorts of potentially tricksy elements – a dazzlingly inventive set, a meta sensibility – but at its core lies a simple family tale of unabashed emotional impact. Given the protagonist of this story is a mathematically gifted, relentlessly logical teenager with a tin ear for the sensitivities of others (though his condition is never identified), this is presumably an intended irony. But otherwise this is a portrait of an outsider that wears its big heart on its sleeve.

It starts out as a detective story, as obsessive teen Christopher (Joshua Jenkins) investigates who killed a neighbour’s dog. But as Christopher writes his story down for his special needs teacher Siobhan (Geraldine Alexander), it turns into an at times picaresque quest for the truth behind the disappearance of his mother (Gina Isaac) and the protective surliness of his father (Stuart Laing).

In director Marianne Elliott’s hands, the task of recreating Christopher’s meticulously ordered but fragile mindset falls not just to the impressive Jenkins, but also to the ingeniously designed set, which for long stretches takes centre stage. Resembling a prop from 1980s sci-fi movie Tron, the set’s black, light-studded walls are ingeniously manipulated to represent blackboards, neighbourhoods, trains, outer space and inner turmoil. The effect is breathtaking, particularly during a bravura sequence set in the London Underground.

The innovative movement used to convey Christopher’s flights of fantasy and outbreaks of angst adds to the spectacle. But such pyrotechnics occasionally threaten to render the supporting cast as bystanders. It is perhaps no coincidence that the play’s relatively low-key conclusion, which relies on unadorned acting, seems almost underwhelming in comparison. The neatly perfunctory dialogue, which works well when recreating Christopher’s worldview, lacks much in the way of emotional punch. Meanwhile, the narrative device that moves the story’s telling from book to play-within-a-play has a knowingness that slightly jars with the almost sweet sincerity which underpins the rest of the drama.

Yet so startling are the technical and kinetic fireworks and so engaging is the central character that it’s near impossible not to be won over, right down to the exuberant coda.

Until October 10th