Grand Theatre, Leeds – 25 August 2015
Simon Stephen’s stunning adaptation of Mark Haddon’s much loved book has arrived in Leeds and it’s a phenomenal feat of acting, fully deserving of five the Tony Awards, seven Olivier Awards and numerous others
The show manages to be theatrical while remaining entirely true to the spirit of the book. The story is simple in that Christopher’s Special Needs teacher, Siobhan, reads the book he has written about his attempts to solve the mystery of Wellington, a dog that was brutally killed in a neighbour’s garden. They decide to stage it as a play. As the first-person narrative unwraps, it’s impossible not to become enthralled by Christopher’s quest, and the things it reveals along the way
There are dramatic moments in the play that are almost too painful to watch, not least when Christopher tries to block out his discoveries by playing manically with his model train set. But there is also humour, in fact there were many moments in the play when the audience was laughing.
The production, directed by Marianne Elliott, was funny, clever, gripping and emotional, really drawing on the actors’ skills.
Joshua Jenkins was sensational in the role, managing to reflect Christopher’s sometimes lonely and stressful world and his thought processes while adding humour throughout. He is unbearably poignant in moments of distress when he lies with his face on the ground and moans, but also movingly captures the character’s courage, his brilliance at mathematics, and his startling perspectives on the world. Christopher can’t bear to be touched – he only allows the most fleeting physical contact with his parents, in which upraised palms briefly connect – and he has a host of other quirks, enthusiasm and dislikes. Jenkins mannerisms and twitches just help to make this a totally believable character
The play is staged in a versatile black box with clever use of projections to create different locations and key images. Christopher uses number patterns to help him feel calmer and these are flashed all over the screen and when a crowded tube station almost paralyses him, he tells himself to imagine a red dotted line on the floor and just follow it, which of course appears on the stage floor.
The set makes use of hidden cupboards and doors and also makes use of the cast themselves as props ranging from a microwave to a very sensual cash dispenser. Movement Directors Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett from Frantic Assembly ramp up the movement, while designers turn up the sound and churn up the projections to give us a glimpse of the sensory overload that besets Christopher.
But by the end, thanks to Jenkins pained honesty and twitchy awkwardness, as well as his moments of exultant joy, Christopher Boone feels like both a hero and a friend, and the happy ending is rightly justified.
There are a host of excellent and often comic supporting performances, with especially fine work from Stuart Lang as the anguished father who loves his son but hurts him terribly, and Geraldine Alexander as teacher Siobhan. And some fabulous animal antics from a puppy and Toby the rat
A tale that begins with a dog viciously stabbed with a garden fork can hardly be called sentimental. But Haddon’s novel has a streak of sentimentality running through it. This is an honest, at times brutally honest, play that shows that Curious is not just a story about a teenager suspected of killing a dog, but a moving tale about emotion, families and coping with life. Its beautiful and enchanting and must see for everyone (although parental advisory is advised for the generous amount of swearing that takes place)
In Leeds until Saturday 29th August – just make sure you stay to the very end for an amazing feat of mathematical excellence par excellence