Arts / Multimedia glimpse into a beautiful mind

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Joshua Jenkins (as Christopher Boone) and company in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”. Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

“I LIKE Sherlock Holmes and I think that if I were a proper detective he is the kind of detective I would be,” says 15-year-old Christopher Boone.

“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes… but he notices them, like I do.”

Boone, played by Joshua Jenkins, is the unusual hero of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, by English author Mark Haddon, who became an overnight sensation on its publication in 2013.

The novel was initially publicised on its back cover as being about a teenage boy with Asperger’s syndrome, (high-functioning autism, or savant syndrome) who discovers a murdered dog on a neighbour’s lawn and, copying his hero Sherlock Holmes (the title comes from Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1892 short story “The Adventure of Silver Blaze”) puts his inventive mind to the mystery at hand.

It won the Whitbread Award, the Guardian Prize and a Commonwealth Writers Prize.

A hugely popular, multimedia stage adaptation by Simon Stephens followed, directed by Marianne Elliott, and became a smash hit on the West End then Broadway, wowing audiences with the spectacular encounter between human beings and technology.

Now on tour in Australia, with a cast of British and Irish actors, it’s due to hit the Canberra Theatre stage in late June.

Joshua Jenkins (as Christopher Boone)… “We want the play perceived as a celebration of difference,” says director Kim Pearce. Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

It’s presented as a play-within-a-play and while Stephen has taken large chunks of narrative and dialogue from the book, what has really been packing them in is the technology, as images from the text have been translated by set designer, Bunny Christie, lighting expert Paule Constable and video artist Finn Ross, with a soundscape by Ian Dickinson and music by composer Adrian Sutton.

There’s also sheer spectacular fun as projections, drawings and boxes are used in different ways helping the versatile actors, who play four major characters and a kaleidoscope of others, such as a drunk, a policeman, a posh woman and even a door, played by the remaining six cast members.

“CityNews” spoke with Kim Pearce, who’s been the resident director of “The Curious Incident” for four years and found, curiously, that the mention of Asperger’s was not welcome.

“In the UK we don’t use the term Asperger’s syndrome anymore and it is not used in media language,” she tells us.

“The company doesn’t want people thinking that this is a play about autism… Christopher does not identify himself as being on the spectrum and we want the play perceived as a celebration of difference.”

Pearce says the company undertook research and found many different kinds of autism, “so it’s not helpful for the audience to be presented with the show as giving an impression of autism.”

And, she says, author Haddon has since said that he “slightly” regretted having used the term Asperger’s on the cover.

“There are much more important things to come away with in the play,” she says.

“There are lots of people like Christopher and so we should focus on Christopher himself.”

So focusing on Christopher, the character has exceptional, visionary mental abilities and sees himself as a mathematician, but when it comes to empathy for other people, he’s often lost.

In the play, other people are seen through his own eyes and as his view of them is unempathetic so, to a degree, is ours.

To Pearce, it’s the way that technology permits a glimpse into Christopher’s beautiful mind that’s the main achievement of the show.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, Canberra Theatre, June 27-July 1.

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