With mental health prominent on the list of stigmatised items that people are ignorant of due to ill or lack of education, Scott Reid – making his debut to the role at The Lowry – portrays the role of Aspergers sufferer Christopher Boone perfectly with such compassion but dignity in Simon Stephens’ play of Mark Haddon’s book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
A best-selling book, is it no surprise this thrilling and highly thought-provoking piece was converted to the stage. Telling the story of author Haddon through a pseudonym, he writes of how he “regretted that the phrase Aspergers Syndrome appeared on the cover of the book when it was first published because the central conceit was that [the character] himself had written the book and refers to himself as ‘someone who has Behavioural Problems’.” With the condition not being mentioned of referenced in the show, the audience are led to draw their own conclusions of whether Christopher really is a ‘naughty kid’, has a behavioural disorder and is just nosey or whether he suffers a mental health problem. I suspect from the mainly young audience in attendance on press night (Wed 25th Jan) that, from their rather naïve and almost innocent reaction of laughing at each expletive near the start, many have never seen or come into contact with someone enduring the condition. Their giggling soon stopped when the punch was packed during the more aggressive and highly emotive scenes in which Christopher hits back when touched and ends up encountering police officers, pulling out his multi-tool on people and travelling alone in London.
This educational spectacle, brought to life with lighting and projection effects as well as cleverly thought-out minimal scenery and the equally ingeniously designed set which allowed elements of a certain act one closing component to be concealed before being built around the stage, highlights the struggles of not only an extremely intelligent mind of a sufferer but also those dealing with looking after a sufferer. Mental health takes its toll on everyone in direct contact with a sufferer and those closer than most have to bear the brunt of so much than the public eye sees.
The lead character is the spearhead for acceptance and education of the difficulties people face day in day out; confusion, frustration, anger, upset, inability to express different emotions or read the emotions of others. I don’t suffer the condition or anything as impactful as the conditions or struggles contained within the script but I see things from the outside and recognise the themes in every day life. As playwright Stephens states, with Christopher being Autistic “[He] sees the truths about our world that we have never noticed before”, like ‘people you to be quiet but they never tell you how long to be quiet for’. I guess, as it goes, when someone lacks one sense, they make up for the loss in the strength of another, intelligence. Members of the audience either found his pedanticity amusing or as more evidence of his intellectuality.
Produced by the National Theatre, five year since it first opened, there are intentionally funny parts and these, along with the ‘breaking down of the fourth wall’ – involving the audience during areas of the script that appeared to be ad libs (“I don’t think the audience are interested in that..why don’t we see if they stick around after the show to hear you tell them” Many did remember to and what a surprising spectacle to the sense that was!) are well-executed.
Opening with a scene of post-death of a dog named Wellington, who belonged to Mrs Shears (Eliza Collins, who also doubles up versatilely as Christopher’s teacher Mrs Gascoyne), the plot is set for Christopher’s detective trail of who killed Wellington. With many twists, we meet various neighbours and characters along the way including Christopher’s father (David Michaels), his therapist Siobhan (Lucianne McEvoy), Reverend Peters (Bruce McGregor) and Christopher’s pet rat Toby (Joan / Ripley). We latterly meet Christopher’s mum (Emma Beattie), her partner Roger aka Mr Shears (Oliver Boot) who she left Christopher’s father for. Christopher’s father told him his mother was in hospital and died and hid all the letters she wrote to him. Christopher finds the letters whilst looking for the book he had written about his detective work after his father hides it and commands that he keep his nose out of people’s business. This becomes evidently down to the fact that, as Mrs Alexander (Emma-Jane Goodwin) says, his mother was in love with Mrs Shears’ husband and his father confided in Mrs Shears, leading Christopher to find the murderer of Wellington…
With the cast playing multiple parts very well, you just can’t take your eyes off the action on stage. A relatively complex story, it is clear what is going on when you witness it, even though you are, for the most part, watching a visual representation of what is going on inside Christopher’s head
Congratulations go to all of the cast and team behind the show and particular mention to Joel Harper-Jackson for his overdramatic yet comedic cameo of man on the platform and those who helped to (physically) support the character of Christopher when he is lay on his bed or being guided/manoeuvred around the stage. Scott (and his alternate Sam Newton) are extremely talented performers who have to be very strong physically to endure the part, balance and glide around, as well as mentally in remembering which compartments of the stage to open when. It was a joy to watch and they should be very proud.
Presented at The Lowry’s Lyric Theatre until 4th February, tickets are available from thelowry.com and there should be no excuses to miss it!