Which is more satisfying, to have the culturally stimulating experience of sitting in the architecturally and historically embellished Gielgud Theatre? Or to pick up a book and have the intellectually invigorating experience of being invited into a mind very different to one’s own? Of course, these are not the only contributors to making a decision as the price of a book tends to be around £7.99 and West End ticket prices tend to be, well, not that.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to read the book or watch the play, the story encapsulates the inner struggles of Christopher, a boy of fifteen with Asperger’s Syndrome, as he comes to terms with the murder of his neighbour’s dog and decides to go against everything his body tells him to in order to become a ‘Detective’ and discover who killed Wellington. Despite the simplicity of the book’s basic plot, the complexity through which Mark Haddon describes the mind of a child with Asperger’s makes it undeniable that any theatrical interpretation deserves recognition, with this being no exception.
In all truthfulness, when the cast entered the stage and embarked into a sequence of interpretative dance and slow-motion I was reminded of my days of GCSE Drama and how that might have seemed interesting then, when we were fifteen. But as the play moved on and the cast began to morph and adapt around the breathtaking Siôn Young as Christopher it became clear that there would have been no other way to explain the abstract movements of the mind than with dance, an original soundtrack, and slow-motion. Lots of slow-motion. So I forgave them and allowed myself to become invested into a story with both the glorious reminiscence of reading the book as a pre-teen, and with innovation that I had never seen on stage before. Curtainless and bare, the set was a series of grids: a brilliant imagination of the mind of a boy with Asperger’s which allowed the audience into a world often misinterpreted and cast in shadow by uninformed folklore.
The way in which the solitude of a boy’s bedroom was conceivably so different from the bustling clamor of Swindon train station in a stage made up of nothing but grids and concealed trapdoors was extraordinary, and the seamlessness with which actors collaborated with one another to become part of the landscape and soundscape of Christopher’s consciousness was nothing short of genius. The integration of memories too was an interesting adaptation of the reminiscence of the story’s original diary form, and the inclusion of the metatheatre was often well-needed light relief. Ambience was heightened further with the original soundtrack created by Adrian Sutton, the perfect accompaniment to the obscurity of Christopher’s experiences of the world as it often reached a near unbearable crescendo to highlight Christopher’s unbearable daily struggle with the hegemony of suburban life.
Aside from the obviously brilliant Siôn Young, the cast was unexceptional and not a scratch on the deeply three-dimensional characters Haddon explores in his novel. For the most part they appeared tentative in fully investing themselves into each of their roles, or did not seem to understand the purpose of their role at all, with some actors frequently trying to get a laugh in situations apparently devoid of humour. Of all the aspects of the play that could have gone wrong, however, supporting actors not achieving my extremely high expectations was not hugely incidental.
Despite the grandiose effect that the book had on my younger self, it may actually be more accessible for the majority of the population to pay ‘those West End prices’ rather than invest the time and commitment necessary to read a novel with such weight in our current culture. To me there is something slightly less heavy about sitting down to watch a Drama school graduate tell you how Christopher feels rather than having the task of reading and fully investing oneself in the inner workings of a young boy who can’t make sense of the world.
The 2014 trailer at the National Theatre