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Whatever happened to poor Wellington?

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CHRISTOPHER in the sky with diamonds: Siobhan (Lesoko Seabe) and Christopher (Kai Brummer). Photograph courtesy Montecasino.

HE’S FIFTEEN YEARS old and higher maths is a doddle for him. Toilet protocol and social behaviour, not so much. Meet Christopher Boone (Kai Brummer), who has Asperger’s Syndrome. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is an astute and carefully focused, hyper-detailed but extremely watchable foray into the difficulty of this type of autism. It ramps up the issues that are articulated in the book upon which it is based in clear focus and will keep you riveted until the very last reveal of the maths problem. Even if you don’t understand the intricacies of the hypotenuse.

While there is a splendid give and take between the characters in this work, who revolve around Christopher, the notion of distortion is expressed with white noise, extreme lighting and loud sound, in the transitions between the scenes. This tends to be annoying in the first half, but by the second half, you understand its rhythm, and the value and grammar it offers the work, punctuating the tale as it bounces off Christopher’s physical responses to circumstances and stress.

But more than that, this work is premised on how an autistic person responds to the world around him. Unlike the play Odd Man Out, which was staged recently in Johannesburg, The Curious Incident speaks in the language of the autistic character. Supported by Lesoko Seabe as Siobhan, the boy’s therapist, the work is reflexive and giving, while it doesn’t veer from being entertaining. Brummer lends credible and oft magical life to Christopher and his condition. Other theatrical treats in this work, include multiple roles by Liz Szymczak, Kate Normington, Nicholas Ellenbogen, Genna Galloway and Jenny Stead. Rippling and weaving through anonymous and specific characters, it’s a well-honed team.

The play is crisply directed, not without humour, and with very complex movement on the part of the whole cast, achieving a sense of crowd with clarity and success. It is supported by a delightful set that resonates with that in the recent NTLive presentation of Julie, where cupboard spaces are revealed in an otherwise uniform surface, which has tricks and lights and steps and interstices which correspond with the unfolding narrative and the words which flow around it.

And the synopsis? It’s simple and complex, like the texture of the work itself: Christopher discovers the neighbour’s Labrador, Wellington has been killed by an unknown assailant, and thus opens a whole investigation which brings his dad (Ashley Dowds), followed by the whole neighbourhood into a series of events that are at once quirky, pragmatic, silly and moving. It’s about talking to old and young members of a community with a frankness that is unabashed and a language that is largely internal. While the scariness of a trip to London, for an autistic teenager alone, is evoked, so are the challenges of dealing with lies, dreams and the thrill of the idea of being an astronaut.

Indeed, in many ways, there’s is something of the earnest sense of whimsy that you may recognise from Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, still currently onstage at Montecasino. Christopher is a boy who sees the world from a unique perspective and he has no qualms about judging that very world, in a similar way to how curious onlookers of the world judge him. In short, it’s an extremely empathetic glance at a character in an empowering, dignified way, with tight and evolved performances. You emerge exuberant with a sense of wonder and respect.

  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is based on the eponymous novel by Mark Haddon, adapted for stage by Simon Stephens and directed by Paul Warwick Griffin. It features design by Gareth Hewitt Williams (lighting), Tina Driedijk (set and costumes) and Charl-Johan Lingenfelder (music and soundscapes), and is performed by Kai Brummer, Ashley Dowds, Dylan Edy, Nicholas Ellenbogen, Clayton Evertson, Genna Galloway, Kate Normington, Lesoko Seabe, Jenny Stead and Liz Szymczak, at the Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino complex, Fourways, until December 2. Call 011-511-1818.
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