JANUARY 24, 2024

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Mission Theatre

Nobody apart from Christopher’s teacher Siobhan, actually listens to him. His dad lies, his mother can’t cope with him, the police misunderstand him and Mrs Shears shouts at him. Set in the 1990s before mobile phones and the internet were standard props The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has a curiously dated feel with its references to adult top shelf magazines, Georgette Heyer novels and society’s indifference to those considered to be ‘on the spectrum.’

Stepping into the role of the protagonist Christopher Boone, Kes Joffe gave a committed and believable performance as the boy with high functioning autism who is determined to find the killer of Wellington, his neighbour Mrs Shear’s pet dog. His melt-downs, his confusion with adults who speak in idioms, his frustration with officialdom and his inability to understand the motivations of his parents were sensitively handled by this talented young actor. It was an outstanding performance.

Siobhan and Christopher

He was ably supported by Sam Fry as Ed – Christopher’s doing-his-best-but-not-quite-good-enough dad – who looked and sounded the part of a plumber who could repair overflowing toilets with ease. And Christopher’s mother Judy, played by Antonia White was suitably unprepared and unable to care for her son – although she comes good eventually. It was Christopher’s parents’ failed relationship and the reason for its breakdown which lay at the heart of this adaptation of Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel by playwright Simon Stephens that Christopher’s dog murder investigations uncovers – revealing the dual narratives of the smash hit book.

Framed as a play within a play, unlike the novel written in the first person, the story had a second narrative with Christopher’s teacher Siobhan (played by an excellent Tania Lyons) as she reads his ‘book’ – and whose calm and reasoned voice helped to sooth him and educate him in how to deal with his emotions and the world around him. Thank goodness for professional mentors and teachers.

An ensemble supporting cast moved coloured boxes and lightweight planks into various configurations to represent trains, homes, streets, gardens and rooms in director Ann Ellison’s thoughtful production.

Jane Lawson as angry Mrs Shears doubled up an even angrier shopkeeper, while Christine Anderson delighted as kindly (and one of the few understanding adults) as Mrs Alexandra, and Roger Ellison as not-very-understanding-adulterer Roger added support with various minor roles.

Jonathan Taft enjoyed himself in several parts including the Duty Sergeant and the Ticket Seller while Joshua Tenn made a very good impression as a more-tea-type-of-vicar who dodges difficult questions. Claire Rumball as Mrs Gascoyne and Ethan James as an unhelpful policeman added to Christopher’s confusing world in which adults simply don’t get him – as to him they seem rather dense.

The Mission Theatre is known for its unusual space as a former chapel but Hayley Fitton-Cook’s lighting did much to create different moods and locations from an underground train in London to a garden – all helped by the sound created by Toby Lewis Atwell and Alexa Garner – although those who are affected by flickering lights should be aware there are sequences of flashing lights. Music played by Philip Glass was both evocative and an emotional background to Christopher’s uncertain journey.

Director Ann Ellison’s production is long at more than two and half hours – although first night shows usually over run as the cast get used to a live performance. I’m sure some of the extended sequences such as tube station scene and the chase sequence will tighten up as the week progresses as sometimes less is more as an audience can quickly grasp a point the drama is making without it being overly lengthy.

The set design combined with the structured movements of the cast did however convey the black and white mindset of Christopher as he struggles to understand the workaday world of 1990s Swindon and London and his imperfect parents. A creative and unusual production enhanced by strong performances – especially from Kes Joffe who brought Simon Stephens’ adaptation of Mark Haddon’s mystery novel’s protagonist and mathematics genius to life.

Harry Mottram

The play runs to Saturday 27th January, 2024, at 7.30pm nightly, with a Saturday matinee at 2pm.

For information and tickets visit https://www.missiontheatre.co.uk/whats-on