The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time offers a raw, unsettling and, ultimately uplifting, insight into the life of someone with Asperger’s syndrome.
Based on the book by Northampton-based Mark Haddon, the play tells the story of Christopher, a 15-year-old boy with a number of personality quirks including the fact he cannot bear to be touched and enjoys being alone in confined spaces.
Haddon said that he was “absolutely convinced” the book couldn’t be adapted for the stage as it is told from Christopher’s unreliable perspective and requires the reader to infer what people are thinking, which is a difficult task to achieve in a theatre production where everything has to be seen and heard.
However, Simon Stephens, who adapted the play, has surprised the author by creating a production that allows the audience to empathise with Christopher by using the full range of tools available to him including, set design, dance choreography, lighting and sound.
Superb modern stage effects are used to transport the audience into the mind of the anxious teenager, who is constantly battling to make sense of the world.
Providing an unusual visual insight into his brain, the walls of a cube-like stage flash up maps, numbers and words in a way that Christopher would imagine them.
As an audience member this is initially extremely disorientating, with flashing lights and amplified electronic dance music provoking a similar sensation of walking into a nightclub.
But without that ‘multi-sensory’ approach to adapting the novel, The Curious Incident would probably have gone down as just another slightly above average show.
The dialogue is not particularly outstanding, in particular a reliance on the use of swearing to emphasise anger becomes a bit repetitive, but it is fiendishly clever scenes such as the dance choreography used when Christopher boards a London underground train that elevate it to Olivier Award-winning status.
One example of this is a scene when an agitated Christopher can be seen literally climbing the walls after being carried into the air and held horizontal against the sides of the set.
The success of the play relies on the talents of the leading man Joshua Jenkins, who plays Christopher, as it is both a mentally and physically exhausting role for the young actor who is never off stage and takes part in numerous, lengthy scenes of dialogue.
But Jenkins rises to the challenge and complements the dazzling stage production with an exceptional performance that brings Christopher - the complex, blunt, frustrating, mathematical genius - to life.
Jenkins is ably supported by Gina Isaac, playing his mum, who stands out in a particularly poignant scene when she tries to explain to Christopher why she decided to leave him, while he ignores her and builds a train set.
Geraldine Alexander, playing Christopher’s teacher Siobhan, also holds the production together with her calm, authoritative voice that provides a soothing remedy to the audience’s ears following the more frenetic scenes.
In contrast to its rather jaunty title, The Curious Incident is not a run-of-the-mill murder mystery or easy going satire.
It is an intense, multi-sensory, piece of theatre that leaves everyone who watches it with more empathy for anyone who has Asperger’s syndrome as well as their family and friends.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is at Royal & Derngate until Saturday. To book got to www.royalandderngate.co.uk