PLAY

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

National Theatre of Great Britain

His Majesty’s Theatre

REVIEW DAVID ZAMPATTI

4.5

All serious theatre is an exploration of the human mind and its mysteries, and good theatre attempts to illuminate, but not explain, it and them.

Explanation is a task for lectures, illumination for the stage.

That’s what makes Simon Stephen’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time among the best of plays.

It’s the story, adapted from Mark Haddon’s much-loved novel, of a courageous 15-year-old, Christopher Boone (Kaffe Keating), who triumphs over the weaknesses and deceits of his parents (Stuart Laing and Emma Beattie) and the terrors of loneliness and alone-ness to achieve what seems an impossible goal, and at least begin to repair the mess those around him have made.

Christopher has an autism spectrum disorder, likely Asperger’s Syndrome. Although his condition is never identified or explained, it limits both his social and emotional capabilities and focuses his mind on his greatest interest – mathematics.

He’s also trying to solve a mystery — the brutal killing of a neighbourhood dog — in the forensic manner of his hero, Sherlock Holmes.

What he discovers would shatter any child, but for Christopher the truth is as non-negotiable as it is unbearable. He’s a small Hamlet in his own rotten Denmark.

Christopher’s short trip from Swindon to London to find his mother is an extraordinary odyssey of theatrical invention. Trains, tube stations and city streets — and the workings of Christopher’s mind — are dazzlingly recreated on Bunny Christie’s pixilated box set of LED lights, lit by Paule Constable and animated by Finn Ross’s video design.

Just as awe-inspiring is the movement of the cast, directed by Frantic Assembly’s Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett. Christopher walks on the walls of his mind and spins through the hands of other cast members.

“Christopher’s short trip from Swindon to London to find his mother is an extraordinary odyssey of theatrical invention”

The whole effect of light and sound (Adrian Sutton’s superb mathematics-inspired music), movement, stagecraft and control of narrative is unsurpassed in its invention and purposefulness.

The seasoned and talented cast (Keating is the alternate to Joshua Jenkins in the lead role) of 10 seems much more numerous because of their marvellous ensemble and multi-character performances, and the control of the narrative by Stephens and the director Marianne Elliott is a singular achievement.

Sure, it’s possible to question whether the device of turning the novel’s first-person account into a partly narrated “play within a play” is entirely successful, and a late reveal is as sentimental and shameless as it is awwww-inspiring (no, I’m not going to tell you).

But this is as fine, entertaining and insightful a couple of hours as I can imagine, and it would be curious of you to miss it.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs until August 19.