I feel like I’m coming to the party late with a review of The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time (surely the longest titled play ever).
Simon Stephens’ remarkable drama of Mark Haddon’s Whitbread Book Of The Year has already been critically and publically acclaimed since opening at the National Theatre nearly three years ago, not to mention garnering a shelf full of awards.
So what is left to say about the touring production which opened tonight to a full house (there’s actually a waiting list for tickets to every performance) at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre?
The NT is a byword for excellence but its management must be taken aback at the enormity of Curious Incident’s success. Its 31-date tour is the largest ever undertaken by the company and, while touring, another production is going back into the West End this June and opening on Broadway in September.
The subject matter isn’t easy to dramatise. Christopher Boone, aged 15 years, three months and two days (when the play opens), suffers from Asperger Syndrome.
He loves maths, his pet rat Toby, making train layouts and astronomy.
Christopher hates yellow (only eating the pink bits of a battenberg cake), lemon squash, noise, people and, most of all, being touched, even by his parents.
His condition causes him to have epileptic fits, poor social skills and behavioural problems – and he can’t tell a lie. Everything people say to him is taken literally and his responses often sound facetious but are well meaning and honest (which gets him into all sorts of trouble).
So we are presented with mathematically brilliant but occasionally confused and terrified teen who is trapped in a world he doesn’t comprehend while dreaming of a life among the stars as an astronaut.
That’s a huge ask for an actor but young Joshua Jenkins is astonishing in the role, presenting us with a believable, if flawed, young man in a story about coming of age.
The tale begins with Wellington, a dog dead on the stage. There’s a garden fork sticking out of the mutt and Christopher, who stumbled across the body, is initially accused of the canine carryings-on.
The boy decides to turn sleuth and interview the neighbours to discover the murderer and, like an amateur Sherlock Holmes (his hero), he writes it all down as a story for himself alone to enjoy. Thoughts of it being performed as a play are firmly dismissed.
About the only person he can talk to is his teacher, Siobhan (Geraldine Alexander) whose character acts as narrator as she reads his story.
But his investigation uncovers some home truths that his exhausted father (a nicely observed performance by Stuart Laing) would rather have kept secret.
It’s a brilliantly told story, sharply acted by an ensemble cast, imaginatively shaped by director Marianne Elliott and aided by Bunny Christie’s very clever, futuristic set design (though I’m unsure whether the strobe lighting is wise when special needs children are in the audience).
Christopher’s awfully frightening adventure, when he is at large in the big wide world, brings home just how difficult ordinary life is for AS sufferers.
But the story never becomes maudlin. The sentimentality is kept to a minimum to be replaced with humour, resilience and the typical back-chat of a not-so ordinary Swindon schoolboy.
No, I tell a lie. There is one incredibly sentimental moment when a cute golden-haired puppy runs on the stage. Its little tail was wagging furiously and it smothered Jenkins’ face with puppy slobber.
The entire audience cooed and fell in love (though no concern was shown for Toby the rat who, at one point, was being swung wildly around in his cage – but then he is a rat).
You are unlikely to ever see a play like The Curious Incident again. It is unique, fresh, smartly staged and with a universal appeal. No wonder tickets are harder to get than finals day at Wimbledon.
Join the queue for tickets and see this life-affirming show. It’s at The Waterside until Saturday and touring until November.