My second foray into the Hong Kong Arts Festival was for a performance of Simon Stephens’ inventive adaptation of the novel of the same name by Mark Haddon.
From my point of view, the artistic/life-experience chronology leading up to this event was magically instructive and not a wee bit coincidental.
At my daughter’s urging more than six months ago, I read the novel and was delighted with the themes, narrative style and flow—particualry the depiction of Christopher Boone—a 15-year-old with a savant-level mind whose other life challenges (Asperger’s syndrome: fear of being touched; propensity for violence; hatred of yellow and brown…) guaranteed him outsider status.
The recent death (March 14) of Stephen Hawkins and the celebration of his remarkable life was proof positive of the final assertion from Christopher that, “I can do anything [no matter what physical/mental/emotional obstacles block my way forward].” Halfway through Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, containing a covey of different-than-us characters (notably the memory-wiped Nakata whose self-description, “Nakata is not bright” is readily belied by his actions and ability to talk to cats or cause fish to fall from the sky—or another 15-year-old, Kafka, who is also prone to sudden violent outbursts and is desperately in love with a ghost), the similarities are startling.
Watching director Marianne Elliott’s vision unfold was largely an exhilarating combination of all the elements above, proving that there really is nothing new under the sun—just different methods of examining the same material.
Of course, compared with the book, the play is much louder (music, Adrian Sutton; sound, Ian Dickinson for Autograph: the openings of both parts leaving no doubt that the action has begun), more literally colourful (designer Bunny Christie; lighting designer Paule Constable: Christopher’s favourite colour, red, being employed in all things great and small—from his journey to London to his socks; using chalk on the stage instantly reinforces the notion of Christopher’s mathematical genius) and voiced (an on-stage narrator allowing Christopher to visually act out to his own recollections from “the book”), leaving far less work for the audience’s imagination than mere words on paper (for those who like to decide for themselves just what is being evoked on the pages, this may be a detriment).
Joshua Jenkins as Christopher must carry the show and he most certainly does, utilizing a dynamic range (the tantrums are impressive; terrors and fearful introspections are totally convincing) that many much more established actors can only envy. Ed (father) has a worthy advocate in David Michaels who, likewise, must confront his own pent-up demons by journey’s end. Emma Beattie’s Judy (mother) is a stoic model of confusion with self but an instinctive desire to offer unequivocal love to her only child. Siobhan, one of Christopher’s caring, at times tough-love teachers, is brought to credible life right to the final exam by Julie Hale. The rest of the cast—taking on a variety of smaller parts—quite rightly stay mostly in the background, supporting the principals in a manner that adds much to the ebb and flow of the scenes and situations.
All in all, it’s a valid few of the original work. Those who crave the bigger picture would be well-advised to read the book then see the play.
On a sadder note, I was absolutely astonished—after being admonished on several occasion throughout the evening to turn off our cellphones by Big Sister—to hear radio chatter during the performance emanating from nearby ushers who also ruined several quiet moments by nosily patrolling the venue. What an incredibly ridiculous double standard (the best the young man I “shushed” with physical gyrations could do was turn down the volume!). The very same “noise-making” staff tried to block the exits after the curtain calls (Christopher was about to recite a mathematical proof) despite the fact that the script assured all patrons that they didn’t have to stay. Fortunately, we far outnumbered the beleaguered house personnel. Shame on the management of The Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts (Lyric Theatre). JWR