View of the inner world of an autistic boy



National Theatre, presented by Singapore Repertory Theatre and Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay

Esplanade Theatre/ Thursday

Spectacular production design steals the show in Britain's National Theatre's adaptation of Mark Haddon's best-selling novel, which goes into the mind of a boy on the autism spectrum.

Christopher Boone (Sam Newton), 15, lives in small-town Swindon, Britain, with his father (David Michaels).

He is excellent at mathematics, but not so good with people. He has Asperger Syndrome, though this is never explicitly mentioned in either the book or play.

When he discovers that his neighbour's dog has been killed with a pitchfork, he falls under suspicion and is taken to the police station after attacking a policeman for touching him, something which he cannot abide.

Determined to find the real culprit, he decides to investigate - but the revelations he turns up shatter the foundations of his carefully ordered world.


  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive

  • WHEN: Today to April 8; 8pm (Tuesday to Friday); 3 and 8pm (Saturdays); 2 and 7pm (Sundays); additional 3pm matinee on April 4 for large school groups

  • ADMISSION: $48 to $138 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to

Haddon's 2003 novel has been adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens, whose wicked sense of humour from plays such as Punk Rock carries over here.

It is the set by Bunny Christie that makes this play a thing of wonder. It is a holodeck-like cube with grids of light for walls, endlessly versatile surfaces upon which myriad projections are thrown.

Out of the walls pop drawers, a clever system of concealing props until they are needed: books, beer cans and, in a particularly lovely scene, an entire train set.

Lighting by Paule Constable, sound by Ian Dickinson and video by Finn Ross work together seamlessly to map out Christopher's world for the audience, from the crackle and strobe that signify a panic attack to the full-on sensory assault of a crowded train station.

Still, some of the best scenes are when director Marianne Elliott falls back on the basics.

One scene in which Christopher investigates the underside of his father's bed, done with just a blackout and a torchlight, is a hoot.

Elliott's use of physical theatre has the ensemble shifting from neighbours to commuters to the furniture in Christopher's house.

They support the main characters through their acrobatic whirlings, such as in a scene where information overload literally drives Christopher up the wall.

Emma Beattie stands out as Christopher's husky-voiced mother, bringing to her performance a level of nuance that is often lacking elsewhere onstage.

In just a handful of scenes, she and Michaels show how a child such as Christopher, who refuses to let people touch him and may even break their toes during a meltdown, might drive loving parents to violence or depression.

Stephens' wry, funny script does not lay the social messaging on thick.

At its core, it is the story of a boy who wants, despite considerable behavioural difficulties, to believe that he can do anything.

Whether that is truly the case is a question for the real world. But for two hours or so, within the magic realm of the theatre, we believe he can.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2018, with the headline 'View of the inner world of an autistic boy'. Print Edition | Subscribe