The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Adapted by Simon Stephens from a novel by Mark Haddon
Directed by Marianne Elliott
Liverpool Empire
21st July - 25th July 2015

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

This is the fourth production, three of them plays and the other a film, I have seen in the past seven months, portraying the life of a special needs person with behavioral difficulties. Two were staged at the Liverpool Playhouse Studio, Cartoonopolis and Plastic Figurines, which focused on a character with autism. There was also an outstanding feature film, titled Mommy, which featured a teenage lad who has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and the problems his mother encountered in dealing with his erratic and unpredictable lifestyle.

Now we have this production, which has, at the centre of the story, fifteen-year-old Chris Boone (Joshua Jenkins), who has Asperger's Syndrome. The problem though was the narrative barely scratched the surface of what it is like to have this condition.

It is starting to become a tiresome trend of portraying people with autism, ADHD and Asperger's, as if they all have the same characteristics of people lumped together under a particular condition. Like so-called able bodied people, each individual have their own characteristics.

As I commented in my review of Plastic Figurines people with autism, or any other behavioural, emotional and social difficulty cannot be lumped under the same heading. They are individuals people like the rest of the populace.

The boy's predicament is not helped by the lack of love and true affection towards him by his parents, Ed (Stuart Laing), who even resorted to physically assaulting him at one point, and his mum Judy (Gina Issacs).

Chris has a highly developed ability in mathematics, despite his almost complete lack of ability in anything else (another stereotype about people with behavioural problems trotted out in the production), and a complete lack of understanding of how to deal with the world around him, even the simplest form of social interaction with other people.

When Wellington, a neighbour's dog, is found dead, slain by a pitchfork, Chris takes on a Sherlock Holmes-like guise in trying to find the culprit.

The discovery of the dead dog is the catalyst which triggers off the conflicts Chris has with his parents, neighbours, police and school staff.

A redeeming feature of A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, particularly in the second act, were the projections, notably when representing the London Underground rail system, and other visual effects, which gave us a stark indication of the sensory overload going through Chris's mind. Very surreal! These sections proved to be the most dynamic aspects of the production.

As the owner of two intelligent border collies, Holly and Jake, I found the repeated denigration of dogs disquieting, 'It is only a dog that has been slain," etc.

There were two unnecessary elements. Firstly, when a young puppy dog was brought on towards the end. Why? Secondly, seeing Chris bound back on stage after the other actors had taken their bows and as the audience were beginning to file out of the theatre. He then tried to explain Pythagoras' Theorem. It was enough to make you cringe.

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