Christopher Boone is 15 years, 3 months and 2 days old. He lives with his father believing his mother has passed away and loves maths, outer space, the colour red and his pet rat, Toby. He doesn’t like things that are yellow or brown, using the same toilet as a stranger or being touched by anyone. Christopher also has Asperger’s Syndrome.
Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel was groundbreaking upon its release in 2003, and the National Theatre’s production of Simon Stephens’ adaptation was no different when it premiered in London in 2012. Five years later and audiences still remain curious, and undoubtedly leave the theatre feeling enriched by this remarkable tale of bravery.
We hear no mention of Christopher’s medical diagnosis, no moment where he is made the victim, and no platitudes of sympathy thrust towards him in recognition for his labelled disability. This is Christopher’s story, as told by Christopher himself as he journals his adventure. A school writing project becomes the log book for his investigation into the murder of his neighbour’s dog, and en route he learns more about his family life than he realised he needed to know. With Simon Stephens’ witty and inventive dialogue, the book has been turned into a play-within-a-play performed at Christopher’s own school. It is his narrative, and he is most definitely the hero.
The most recent custodian to take on the role of Christopher and tell his story is Scott Reid. In his hands, Christopher is decisive and honest; lithe and athletic, he bounds across his world on the stage, capturing the boundless energy of Christopher’s thirst for knowledge and truth.
Though his support network may, at times, seem to provide yet more grief for Christopher’s active mind to comprehend, these characters are constructed with care, sincerity and honesty. Lucianne McEvoy’s schoolteacher Siobhan is his trusted guide; it is her voice who calms him and her instruction and faith that enables him to succeed. David Michaels is stoic and firm, and every bit the loving yet harried father struggling with the difficulty of managing Christopher’s difficulties. Emma Beattie as his mother, Judy, is a distant figure, a concept of maternal love, and seeing her rise to the challenge of putting her son’s needs first, no matter how late in the day, is warming.
The success of this production is not down to any individual effort: it is the collaboration of highly skilled creative energies. Marianne Elliott’s ingenious direction and passion for precision find comedy in the ordinary and truth in the extraordinary; inspired movement and physical theatre from Frantic Assembly shows the chaos inside Christopher’s brain as he attempts to compute the new world around him; Adrian Sutton’s original score echoes Christopher’s mood with wonderfully abstract sounds and rhythms; beautifully evocative lighting and videography from Paule Constable and Finn Ross respectively bring Bunny Christie’s seemingly simple and yet highly layered multi-purpose set design to life. Pair all of this with a team of actors who simply desire to tell Christopher’s story and this is a spectacular night of theatre.
Christopher’s journey is about courage; about the bravery shown by a young boy and his desire to be true and honest. It is not his struggle with the world, but the world’s struggle to understand him. It inspires us not to label him or anyone; not to expect anything more or less from anyone. It invites us to simply take him as we find him.
“Does that mean I can do anything?” Christopher asks. Why yes, he can.
Reviewed by Tate James