REVIEW: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at Royal & Derngate, Northampton

For many people maths is not comforting, but for a boy who wants certainty and consistency in life it is a safe retreat.

Maths stays the same, it is reliable, honest and true and once you have learned the rules everything can be worked out from there.

Christopher is a boy who screams and fights if he is touched, never lies, avoids speaking to strangers, struggles to understand other people’s emotions, but remembers everything and loves maths.

He is the central character in the National Theatre production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which is on at Royal & Derngate in Northampton this week.

The story, adapted from Mark Haddon’s novel, takes us inside Christopher’s world and, as with the novel, this inventive, beautiful, emotional and dazzling production allows us to see things as he sees them.

Key to this is the set itself which is remarkable. It is like another character, another performer in the ensemble. It looks like a cube made up of black graph paper, but it is not as simple as it first appears. It is full of surprises and comes alive with projections, lights and images and is covered with concealed openings that mirror the mind of Christopher himself.

The drama bursts noisily onto the stage as a crime is discovered. The killing of a dog called Wellington with a fork. A garden fork that is.

At first under suspicion of doing the deed himself Christopher, played by Joshua Jenkins, launches his own investigation and writes down his findings in a book which he shares with Siobhan, his teacher.

It is an utterly believable performance which explores his mindset and makes his behaviour and his confusion completely understandable.

As a result of his inquiries the very fabric of Christopher’s reality starts to unravel as one important discovery after another reveal that his life and the people in it are not as they seemed.

It is a compassionate look at the impact on parents of bringing up a boy who finds everyday life so difficult.

Stuart Laing, as Christopher’s father Ed, gives a moving performance as a man doing his best but being pushed to his limits. His subtle performance brings out his love for his son without mawkishness. Particularly moving was the moment when he gets a brief and much-longed-for chance to embrace his son and the look of love, awe and admiration as he listens to Christopher’s observations about rain.

Gina Isaac, as Christopher’s mother Judy, portrays the frustration and despair at wanting to love and take care of her son but struggling to find a way to do it and feeling that her efforts are just not good enough.

Geraldine Alexander brings kindness and lightness to her performance as Siobhan, at times voicing Christopher’s own unspoken thoughts as well as being a mentor and guide to him whether she is with him or not.

One of the most striking things about the production is how precisely and beautifully it is choreographed. A memorable section of the book were the scenes where Christopher tried to make sense of people getting on and off trains and the ensemble cast bring these moments, with the ebb and flow of the rush hour, to life. Similarly the section in which Christopher describes why he wants to be an astronaut, and is held aloft to float around in outer space, works brilliantly.

Christopher’s journey allows him to begin to adjust to the changes in his world and find that even if real life isn’t as reliable as Pythagoras’s theorem, the pieces can somehow fit together.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is on at Royal & Derngate until Saturday, March 29.