Geraldine Alexander: There’s been a curious murder

Geraldine Alexander and Joshua Jenkins. Pic: Comp
Geraldine Alexander and Joshua Jenkins. Pic: Comp
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THERE’S been a murder! The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time might not be the snappiest title ever given to a play, but then it is based on Mark Haddon’s award-winning 2003 novel of the same name, which, as any Sherlock Holmes’ fan will tell you, quotes Conan Doyle’s fictional detective - it is from his short story, Silver Blaze.

A Broadway and West End smash hit, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a hybrid mix of physical theatre, musical and play. It tells the story of 15-year-old Christopher Boone.

As the lights come up on designer Bunny Christie’s abstract, grid-lined box set, Christopher stands by Mrs Shears’ dead dog, which has been speared with a garden fork. That’s the murder.

It is seven minutes after midnight and Christopher is under suspicion. He records each fact in a book he has been encouraged by one of his teachers, Siobhan, to write and determines to solve the mystery of who killed Wellington.

Christopher is no ordinary 15- year-old. He has an extraordinary brain and is exceptional at maths, while ill-equipped to interpret everyday life.

He has never ventured alone beyond the end of his road, he detests being touched and distrusts strangers. But his detective work, forbidden by his father, takes him on a frightening journey that upturns his world.

Despite the focus being on Christopher, played by Joshua Jenkins at the Festival Theatre for two weeks from Tuesday, it could equally be argued that the story is as much that of Siobhan, who narrates the tale.

Geraldine Alexander, who plays the inspirational teacher in the touring production, agrees. “I’m glad you noticed that,” she smiles.

“When I first read the script I realised Siobhan instigates everything. It’s her idea that he should write a book about his experiences, then to make the book into a play.

“She also has so much emotional investment in Christopher, which is why I wanted to play the role. She’s not just any old teacher, she’s not an archetype, she is a really particular person.” With a laugh, she adds, “and for the first half of the play she doesn’t stop talking.”

As Christopher’s investigation twists and turns, it is brought to life through movement, props and an explosion of lighting and sound effects.

Produced by the National Theatre and Frantic Assembly, who specialise in bringing together movement, design, music and text, cast members frequently find themselves morphing from character to character, playing pieces of scenery and transporting Christopher around the set. “Not me, thank god,” laughs Alexander. “I’m doing all the talking while they are carrying Christopher around.

“But it is a really exciting production because it crosses those boundaries. You have musical theatre, theatre, dance... this play bridges all of them.

“Of course, it’s staged by the National and Frantic Assembly, so all those brains at the top have come up with something really new.

“It’s a piece that really highlights the power of storytelling.”

Knowingly, she hints, “And it is worth hanging back after the end.”

If there is something familiar about Alexander, it could be this.

One of her earliest roles introduced her to TV viewers as Alison Taggart, daughter of Glenn Chandler’s legendary detective Jim Taggart, as played by Mark McManus.

The actress, who also lists appearances in Father Brown, EastEnders and Coronation Street among her credits recalls, “I did two series but they were very long contracts and I was very young at the time, 21 or something.

“I just didn’t want to be tied down.” Laughing, she adds, “Otherwise, I could still be doing it. I really loved it, but it was too early in my career to want to play her for too long.

“I went back a few years ago as a completely different character and that was really weird. Mark had gone. It was very, very different.”

No stranger to the Capital either, Alexander has worked frequently at The Traverse, her “favourite, favourite place.”

The 2000-seat Festival Theatre will prove just a shade larger.

“2000,” she exclaims. “That is what has been extraordinary on this tour, we are playing to bigger houses than on Broadway or the West End and they are fantastic.

“This play sits so well in the places it tours to because it appeals to everybody - it is about everybody.

“We are getting lots of families in to see it and have been really surprised by the audience reaction. It really has been quite amazing.”

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, Tuesday - 9 May, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £15-£35, 0131-529 6000