The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - London

The National Theatre's stage adaptation of Mark Haddon's novel of the same name.

Joshua Jenkins on Playing a Teen Again in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in the West End

Joshua Jenkins on Playing a Teen Again in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in the West End
Joshua Jenkins & Emma Beattie in "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time"
(Photo: Brinkhoff/MoĢˆgenburg)

About the Show

Joshua Jenkins has spent a sizable chunk of his acting life playing Christopher, the teenager at the wounding and wounded heart of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The much-lauded Simon Stephens play, adapted from Mark Haddon’s novel of the same name, has returned for an encore West End engagement, this time to the Piccadilly Theatre where the amiable Jenkins could be found one recent afternoon for an engaging chat.

How does it feel to be back with a play you know well?
What’s most impressive is the hunger of everyone involved to try and improve the show and the original creative team’s enthusiasm to try and make it better and to throw new ideas into the room. I think everybody involved feels that it would be a pointless endeavor to do the same thing every single time.

How do you account for the ongoing appeal of this play—given that the Piccadilly marks the fourth London venue it has played?
It goes back to when I first read the book and to the connection I had to Christopher as regards basic universal feelings that every one of us goes through. The power of the play has a lot to do with how we in society treat people who are different, and I think that’s the important theme of the whole thing.

How specific do you feel you have to be when it comes to inhabiting someone like Christopher who exists on the autistic spectrum?
That’s never explicitly mentioned in the book or the play, though, obviously, it exists and it seemed to me to make sense to research the role as if it was [mentioned]. So, we went to schools and spoke to pupils and some of their teachers and parents and I looked at lots of books and documentaries so that it would all form part of the subconscious. What you don’t want is for a medical diagnosis to become the prime focus: you don’t want to go in and play a caricature or a type when the task is to be truthful and honest and to maintain the integrity of the show.

Was a London run in the play always on the cards for you?
Well, I did the original U.K. tour and then the first-ever international tour, traveling to Amsterdam and Toronto and to various cities in China and Australia. We got back from Australia only a few months ago. I feel as if I’ve played Christopher everywhere except on the West End.

Did each separate engagement with the role demand a change in perspective?
It’s just that every time the prospects of the job have gotten better. The U.K. tour was great and then the international tour felt like, “Oh wow, I get to see the world as well as do the play,” and then to finish on the West End felt like the right way to finish—to bookend the experience.

How much of your life has actually been given over to playing Christopher?
I’ve done two 12-month contracts and this is another six-month contract. I don’t think anyone else has been stupid enough to come back and do it again and again, though, honestly, it’s the most brilliant task anyone could ever have; there’s no better part than Christopher Boone, really.

What’s it like, age 31, to be playing a character half your age?
I’ve got quite a baby face, but I’m not sure how much longer that is going to last: this may be the end of me playing 15-year-olds! That said, the character is too physically and mentally demanding for an actual young person to take on, so it’s not that surprising that the actors who play him have been older.

Do you ever get carded in bars?
[Laughs] Now and then it does happen and I’m probably older than the person asking for my ID!

Is there a community—online or elsewhere—of onetime Christophers, given the many fine actors who have played the role over the six-plus years since the play’s National Theatre premiere?
Not officially but we should have one, shouldn’t we? I’m certainly aware of the other boys who have played Christopher, and it’s been great to see so many of them go on and do great things; I wish every one of them all the best.

What is it like to have an alternate for your role who goes on three times a week?
When the show first opened at the National, I don’t think anyone anticipated what a beast of a role this was going to be, so it does feel like the right thing to do, both physically and psychologically. It keeps the two Christophers from going insane and not being able to move [laughs].

Are you astonished that your Tony-winning Curious Incident director, Marianne Elliott, now has three plays showing simultaneously in London, between this, Company, and the return of War Horse to the National?
I think the work speaks for itself in that sense. I went and saw Company and I’ve seen War Horse, and they’re just sensational shows that involve every aspect of theater-making you could possibly imagine at the highest standard.

Is this run at the Piccadilly Theatre your West End debut?
As an adult yes, but I did play Gavroche in Les Miz at the Palace Theatre when I was about 10, and I have very strong memories of it, starting with what a beautiful place the Palace Theatre was. Jeff Layton was the main Jean Valjean and I did a six-month contract along with three other kids.

How did you manage that, since you’re not a Londoner?
That’s right, I’m from Swansea in south Wales. But when you’re a kid you just take the logistics of a job like that for granted and tend to take everything at face value; I didn’t really think beyond it at the time.

Does this mean you are a singer?
I was then, but once my voice broke that was the end of my singing career! I remember at the time starting to panic and not knowing what to do—so thank heavens acting came along!