When it was released in 2003, Mark Haddon’s internationally best-selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time pulled off an impressive feat, telling an entire book from the view of a child with Asperger’s syndrome.
The protagonist, 15-year-old Christopher Boone, finds his neighbour’s dog dead, speared by a garden fork, and is blamed for the death. The tale draws you into the teenager’s extraordinary brain as he investigates, leading on a journey that not only finds the culprit, but completely upturns his world.
It’s an unusual premise, and difficult to carry off in a literary sense. So how do you take it to the stage?
The success of this production by the National Theatre of Great Britain largely comes down to the performance of Christopher, played by 30-year-old Joshua Jenkins. He played the role in the original UK tour three years ago, and had a short break before getting the call up for the international tour.
It’s a tough role, so it’s no surprise the actor is twice the age of the character. Jenkins spends every minute of the show on stage - including a scene after the final round of applause has died out. Complex dialogue flows quickly, filling almost every moment, and Jenkins is captivating as a boy on the cusp of adulthood who doesn’t always completely understand the world around him.
“Christopher doesn't leave the stage apart from the interval, but in many ways that's kind of an easier experience for me,” says Jenkins. “Obviously most parts I've done you go off for 20 minutes and you come back on for 10 minutes and you go off for half an hour, and that requires more concentration in many ways.”
“Whereas when you play Christopher, you're immersed in it so you really do get the full arc of that night's performance. I always describe it as you jump on the Christopher Boone rollercoaster and you can't get off.”
Adapted by Simon Stephens and directed by Marianne Elliott, the stage show premiered at London’s National Theatre in September 2012 before transferring to the West End in 2013, and then Broadway in 2014, and has won five Tony Awards and seven Olivier Awards.
The inner workings of Christopher’s mind are shown through the use of an immersive Matrix-style set, made up of more than one million tiles. Extravagant projections take you through Christopher’s complex thought processes and impressively transform the stage, from his home in Swinden, to the underground tube stations of London and beyond.
While the young protaganist has spent most of his life indoors, too afraid to venture too far from home or do the thing he learns is called, “chatting”, the cast of eight barely sit still during the long show.
“The physical aspects of the role are one of the things I love must," Jenkins says.
"When you do straight plays, more often than not it's like Shakespeare, where you walk on the stage, say some lines, and you walk off. So to have the excuse to be this physical and this inventive with your body is a unique experience for me."
It's thanks to this virtuoso performance that the book, so fresh and idiosyncratic in its premise, has been brought successfully to the stage. It's no wonder the show has consistently sold out for much of its run, both here and overseas.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is on at Canberra Theatre Centre June 27-July 1. Tickets at canberratheatrecentre.com.au.