Mark Haddon has always said the he regrets the fact that the phrase “Asperger Syndrome” appeared on the cover of his 2003 novel, because he didn’t want the protagonist, Christopher Boone to be labelled, or pigeonholed in any way. Rather, he explained, he cherry picked various behavioural quirks and oddities from family and friends and used them to build a character that is at once unusual and at the same time very familiar.
Everybody can recognise something of themselves in him, and whilst the supremely talented Luke Treadwell’s Christopher is too belligerent and aloof to be quite likeable, he is extraordinarily believable and sympathetic.
Christopher lives in a world of numbers and logic, and any human behaviour which falls outside these strict parameters is baffling and disturbing to him. Of course, human nature means that he spends a lot of time being baffled and disturbed; we learn that his mother recently died of a heart attack – “So where exactly in the universe is heaven?” he demands of a nervous vicar. “In a black hole?” His father Ed, touchingly portrayed by Sean Gleeson, is desperately trying to reach out to a son he just cannot touch, either physically or emotionally. His struggle, with its little successes and its dramatic mistakes is poignant without ever becoming saccharine. Christopher attends a special school where he is patiently supported and encouraged by his teacher Siobhan, played by Niamh Cusack.
The story begins with Christopher’s discovery of a dead dog named Wellington. He decides to emulate Sherlock Holmes and “detect” the culprit so that they can be punished. His investigations lead him on a journey of discovery and previously unknown human interaction, thereby giving us a fascinating insight into his unusual mind. Siobhan asks him to write the story down, and this story thereafter serves as our narrative until she persuades him to let her turn it into a play. These conceits serve as an effective framework, discreetly bringing the novel to life without ever feeling overly stylised.
Bunny Christie’s dramatically linear stage design is brilliantly evocative of Christopher’s thought patterns and mathematical rationale, even if it sits rather oddly against the gilded opulence of the Apollo; after all it was designed for The National and I imagine it fitted perfectly well there. Together with Paule Constable’s lighting, Fin Ross’s video, Adrian Sutton’s music and beautifully fluid movement direction by Frantic Assembly we felt as though we were actually in Christopher’s head, feeling his confusion, fear and isolation. The terrifying moment when he arrives in the hustle and bustle of London is particularly effective, almost taking your breath away, as is the dreamlike portrayal of Christopher contemplating the stars. Director Marianne Elliott steers her frenetic and volatile production safely through the rocks; in her hands every word, every movement feels as though it is landing in exactly the right place.
Amongst all this the actors live and breathe their roles; each of them convincing, each of them real. There are no goodies or baddies; everybody is just trying to do the best they can in a world that we all find strange and confusing sometimes. The story does drag just a little in places, and the production felt slightly over-long, but you cannot really resent spending more time with characters such as these. This is a subtle and intriguing production which will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you think about it for a long time afterwards.
And if all that wasn’t enough, there is a model train-set and a live puppy. Who could resist?
Review by Genni Trickett
Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Age Restrictions:Recommended Age: 13+
Booking Until: 31st Aug 2013
12th March 2013