Have you ever read a book which, after only a few pages, you knew would change your life? I had this feeling when I picked up The Curious Incident a few years ago. I can’t remember exactly how old I was; the book’s first edition, the copy my family owns, was published in 2003, so I’m guessing I can’t have been much older than fifteen when I read it.
The book is narrated in the first person by Christopher Boone, a fifteen-year-old who describes himself as a ‘mathematician with some behavioural difficulties.’ He lives in Swindon with his Dad and, upon discovering the neighbour’s dog has been killed with a garden fork, decides to investigate and find out the murderer. However Christopher gets more than he bargained for and ends up finding out more than he ever imagined possible.
Although neither the book nor Mark Haddon, its author, mention Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism, it is strongly suggested that Christopher has some sort of social, spacial and behavioural issues. He doesn’t like being touched; he doesn’t like brown or yellow and won’t eat foods of these colours; he strictly enforces his routine and, when upset by people or loud noises, often curls up on the floor and groans to himself. He calms down by counting prime numbers, cube numbers or the Fibonacci sequence out loud.
Some of the actions and thoughts of Christopher that we see in the book resonated particularly strongly with me; my brother has Asperger’s, so reading this book was like getting a sneak peek into his incredibly complex mind and going one step further to understanding what it must be like on a daily basis in his world. Whilst Christopher’s behaviour is more extreme than my brother’s, parallels could be drawn and the book was and still is a hugely useful tool to refreshing my understanding of Autism – I have a copy on my shelf and pick it up every now and then.
So, in my eyes, the stage adaptation had a lot to live up to – thank goodness it delivered, and then some. The incredible narration of the novel is brought to life with an imaginative set, that allowed for lighting and visuals to merge and deliver a truly sensory experience. Indeed, when the action moved from train station to street, the visuals and sounds changed accordingly, giving a true sense of the ‘sensory overload’ often acutely felt by many on the Autistic Spectrum.
As I saw the play on a Tuesday, Johnny Gibbons was in the title role; I knew Luke Treadaway had received wide acclaim for his portrayal of Christopher, however any fears I may have had about Gibbons were dispelled within five minutes of the start. Gibbons was everything I had imagined Christoper to be – awkward, isolated, detached, misunderstood, logically brilliant and completely fascinating. The cast portrayed their roles convincingly, creating a happy balance of characters on the stage with a slice of humour injected into proceedings too. The little details were all there; live animals were used, evoking a collective ‘aww’ from the audience, and actors ran into the aisle and down the front of the stage, really bringing us into the action.
By putting a human face on the character so well-formed in my head, the production drove home the fact that Christopher’s ‘Autistic’ traits are ones we can pinpoint within ourselves. His character really isn’t too dissimilar from our own, it’s just an enhanced version, where every sense and emotion is multiplied by a hundred. Everyone is on the Autistic spectrum whether we know it or not, and projects such as this help us identify that and embrace those for whom these difficulties take over their lives.
Both the book and, now, the stage adaptation are a triumph and I hugely encourage reading the book and seeing the play, post haste. It was a personal revelation and I hope others will have a similar experience with this eye-opening production.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs at the Apollo Theatre until January 2014. Get tickets here.