|Luke Treadaway & Paul Ritter (photo by Manuel Harlan)|
Stephens employs two narrative methods to clarify the story. One, which comes straight out of the book, is to have Christopher’s schoolteacher, Siobhan (Niamh Cusack), read some of it, which he has written down; the other, which is introduced in act two, is to render it in the form of a play that, at Siobhan and the headmistress’s request, Christopher has written. The first works fine for much of the first act, but when Christopher reads the letter in which his mother, Judy (Nicola Walker), explains why she left, the overlay of Siobhan’s reading on top of Judy’s is distracting and doesn’t feel like a replication of Christopher’s experience. (I wasn’t wild about Cusack, whose perkiness and sashaying are way too actorish.) The second – the metatheatrical element – doesn't work at all; it’s cutesy and self-referential.
|Luke Treadaway & Niamh Cusack|
Some members of the ensemble fall into the trap of stylizing their performances so oddly that they seem to be commenting on the idea of acting. That’s particularly true of Sophie Duval, who doubles as Mrs. Shears, the owner of the dog and the headmistress. But the ensemble work is good, especially when it’s playful and funny, as in a scene where Christopher searches for his book (the story he’s writing), which his father has confiscated, and the actors either demonstrate or embody the items he finds along the way. By the end, you’re completely caught up in Christopher’s world, even though you’ve never stopped observing it. He concludes his story by asking Siobhan if – now that he’s written a book, solved the mystery of the dog, and traveled to London by himself to find his mother – she thinks that he’s capable of anything. The play, unlike the novel, ends (except for a post-curtain call coda in which Christopher shows us how he solved a mathematical problem on his A levels) on this question, which, in the most affecting way, brings us back down to earth.
– Steve Vineberg is Distinguished Professor of the Arts and Humanities at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he teaches theatre and film. He also writes for The Threepenny Review and The Boston Phoenix and is the author of three books: Method Actors: Three Generations of an American Acting Style; No Surprises, Please: Movies in the Reagan Decade; and High Comedy in American Movies.