It is rare that I think any version of a book is better than the original. Stories which are told as a novel are created in that form for a reason and versions, for screen or stage, are often derivative rather than expansive. So, I was blown away by this theatrical interpretation by Simon Stephens of Mark Haddon’s original novel.
The 2003 novel is narrated by a young man called Christopher. He does not tell lies, not as he says because he is good but because he has asperger’s syndrome. His interest is in numbers and space. When he finds his neighbour’s dead dog in the night, he wants to find out who killed it. His investigations lead him to uncover family secrets, not least the fate of his mother who he believed died two years before.
Christopher’s view of the world is one without pretence or metaphor. He may not understand the nuance of social interaction but his straightforward approach to people allows him to find the truth that is obscured for others.
The novel is brought to life by an ensemble that takes on the neighbours, family members and teachers that surround Christopher. Their presence on the stage throughout the action adds to the sense that others understand the world better than Christopher does. The stage is lit by grids of LED lights demarcating acting spaces and adding to the impression of a mind that is differently wired.
In the performance I saw the part of Christopher was played by Sam Newton, affecting as the young man who struggles to navigate a world he does not fully understand. In the end, the play is about difference, growing up and identity. I read the novel when it first appeared. I enjoyed it and I am glad I read it first but this production blew me away. It really was a case of a book coming to life.