The torment of living in a world that is threatening, jagged and strange is given full expression in this inventive and intelligent adaptation of Mark Haddon’s award-winning book.
That the production is uninvolving, at least in the first half, is oddly and accidentally fitting. As a whole it lacks a gut punch but is never less than intriguing.
Christopher Boone, 15, is lost somewhere on the autistic spectrum. He loves order, maths and space and dislikes yellow, metaphors and hugs.
Since the book was published in 2003 we have become used to Christophers as they tend to crowd out high concept US crime dramas and earn a million bucks an episode in The Big Bang Theory.
So the tropes of a behavioural spectrum disorder, without the snazzy, superhero advantages, are perhaps behind the stuttering start.
Christopher finds Wellington the dog stabbed with a garden fork. An aficionado of Sherlock Holmes, he knows an investigation is necessary.
“When someone gets murdered you have to find out who did it so that they can be punished,” he says in his blank voice.
Along the way, he uncovers family secrets that would be difficult to stomach for a boy with a well-balanced outlook let alone one who needs diagrams of facial features to help him translate emotion.
And yet his inability to cope with the simplest of everyday challenges – like talking – lessens the impact of these bodyblows.
Count the rhythm
If a simple hug is the peak of exquisite agony, then lies and deception of the most egregious kind are merely another strand of white noise misery, indistinguishable from the cacophony of his Swindon existence.
The play invites us to empathise with the parents who (understandably) are more sinners than saints. Dad Ed (Nicolas Tennant) stays and takes the stick, while Mum Judy (Emily Joyce) flees and takes the guilt.
Both ultimately pay for betrayals, underscoring the play’s message that isolation is on the spectrum of the human condition too.
Christopher runs away to his mother’s house in Willesden encountering the full-on London experience of noise, dissonance and violence.
At last Bunny Christie’s imaginative graph paper set fulfils its potential with a variety of fireworks along its X-Y co-ordinates. Meanwhile the ensemble march, shout and do all the other things that intrude on Christopher’s small besieged patch of peace.
“Count the rhythm in your head like when you’re doing music,” says his teacher Siobhan in his head.
All this jumble is held together with nimble brilliance by Graham Butler, whose wide-eyed naivety and confusion put some traces of humanity into a tragically robot soul.
Siobhan (Sarah Woodward) is the one character with heart while his parents are strangely unaffecting.
There is no ribbon to tie up the story. Christopher will not collapse in his parents’ arms in a moment of self-recognition and good humour.
But there is a (real) puppy that wags its tail joyously, eliciting “oohs” and “aaahs” – emotional responses which are in surprisingly short supply elsewhere.
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time
Until Feb 14, 7.30pm (mats), £20-£76, delfontmackintosh.co.uk.