Photo: Richard Davenport
This fine, sensitive entertaining study of high level autism and family break up, directed by Marianne Elliott, wowed audiences at the National Theatre in 2102, did very well in the West End and then toured nationally. Now an equally excellent 90-minute version is touring 60 schools so that a new generation meet Christopher Boone and reflect on his problems. Mark Haddon’s novel, adapted by Simon Stephens, has become a theatrical evergreen.
I saw it with a very excited and excitable Year 8 audience at Aylward Academy in Tottenham at an afternoon performance. Drama students had seen it the morning. The school has a large theatre in a separate building, configured in the round for this show, so there were none of the usual school hall problems. And the National Theatre ensures high level production values for this tour with a floor space like graph paper to connote Christopher’s mathematical talent and props in boxes around the perimeter. Of course it isn’t illuminated as in the original show but everyone is seated so close that it really doesn’t matter.
The now well known story is that a neighbour’s dog has been killed and Christopher, Sherlock Holmes-like, sets out to solve the murder mystery. Along the way he discovers devastating things about his own family.
The ensemble cast of eight is very strong and there’s a lot of accomplished doubling and physical theatre to connote things like a cash machine or a train. At the heart of the show is a magnificent performance from Shiv Jalota as Christopher – intense, angry, confused, trying to focus but living in a different mental world from everyone around him. When distressed he groans and howls and it’s deeply disturbing. At other time he grins and you know that somehow one day Christopher will be OK.
Equally fine is the work by Nick Pearse as Christopher’s troubled, often angry dad who really does love him but is struggling to cope as a deeply damaged single parent. No one in this well observed piece is perfect and nobody is wicked but there is a great deal of well captured anxiety, angst, poor decision making and human messiness. Pearse (also a good policeman and a few other roles) ensures that we feel every ounce of this man’s anger and remorse.
Not that this is any sort of tragedy. It’s very funny. Christopher’s autisitic eccentricities are often tenderly hilarious and of course a young audience will whoop in delight if an adult on stage uses the sort of language, they continuously speak in themselves in the playground.
All in it’s all a very impressive 90 minutes of theatre. This is not the place to express my misgivings the problems about reviewing shows in schools which have rigid rules about journalists on the premises but I fully intend to do so elsewhere soon.
Photo: Richard Davenport