We were lucky enough to catch up with Joshua Jenkins, a 27 year-old actor from Swansea, who plays Christopher Boone in the UK National Tour of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. He had lots of say about the production and seemed very grounded!
Had you read Mark Haddon’s novel, on which the play was based, before you performed?
I read the book a few years before I had the audition and I fell in love with it. I reread it again during the rehearsal process and fell in love with it all over again. During the rehearsal process it became like a bible for us. For any problems we had, we went back to the book and used that as our reference.
How did you come to land the part?
My agent called me and asked me if I wanted to audition. I’d already read the book a few years before, and I loved the story, and I knew how successful the play had been on the West End. I said, ‘yeah, absolutely, I’d love to’. I went to four auditions – a pretty gruelling audition process that lasted a couple of months, and then I found out I got the part!
It’s your National Theatre debut. Considering the West End production won 7 Olivier awards, how do you feel performing it? Do you feel like there is an element of pressure?
Initially I felt a bit of pressure because it had been so successful and because some wonderful actors have played Christopher before, but I’d never seen the show before on the West End so I went into the rehearsal process with a fresh pair of eyes, I guess. And I had no idea of what it was meant to be or how it was meant to be done, and that sort of took the pressure off me a little bit I think.
I read that you resisted the temptation to go and see it in the West End.
I did. There were a couple of moments in the rehearsal process where I just didn’t know whether I was getting it or not, I got scared, I thought, maybe I should go and see it. But I decided against it, I decided to be brave and just do my own thing.
Your character Christopher is a socially awkward 15 year-old who struggles in society. How did you deal with that; how did you approach the part; what techniques did you use in rehearsal?
It is mentioned in the book of the play that he is on the autistic spectrum and he definitely possesses a lot of qualities of someone who is, so for me it was important to do as much research into that as I possibly could. I watched hundreds of documentaries, TV programmes, and read as many books as I could. I went to a school in North London and met some of the pupils there; they were very generous with their time. I just wanted to try and understand Asperger’s, and what it was. Even though it is a story and a play about family and about love and about coming of age, it was still important for me to do as much research as possible. And then when I got in the rehearsal room, I could kind of let that research go a little bit and really focus on the script and the story of Simon Stephens’ wonderful adaptation and try and stay true to that I think.
Do you find, while playing the part, that there are aspects that you can relate to, of just being a teenage boy?
Of course, I can remember what it was like to be a teenager. I think we can all relate to that, that idea of coming of age. Christopher goes on this magical journey and at the end of the play; things will never quite be the same for Christopher again. I think we all go through something in life where after that experience, things will always be slightly different and for the better.
How has the tour been so far? There are 31 cities in total: has it been overwhelming?
It is a little overwhelming but so exciting as well, visiting all these wonderful cities, and experiencing different people, and seeing these different theatres. And performing in all different spaces: some are 1800, 2000 seater, some are a little more intimate, 900, 1000 seater, all pretty big, and you do get a very different feel and different vibe from each of them. That’s so exiting. I think it keeps it fresh: rather than be doing the same thing every week for twelve months in the same venue. It really does add a little something to it, makes it very exciting and stimulating.
Do you feel like you have a personal connection with any of the venues?
In the next few weeks’ time, we are playing in Cardiff. I’m from Swansea so it is sort of close to my home. It will be my National Theatre debut in Wales, which is really exciting and my family are going to come watch it, so I’m really looking forward to that. We’ve been really lucky, every venue so far has just been spectacular and the audiences have been great, the response has been fantastic. I feel really lucky and privileged to be doing this job.
So how has it been in rehearsals? There is a fair bit of physical theatre, how have you dealt with this?
I’m not a trained dancer by any means. It’s fair to say that I have a movement background so the physical aspect is the first way I approach it really. Nothing can prepare you for the physical elements of this show really. There is a physical theatre group called Frantic Assembly who are the best physical theatre company in the country. They choreographed all the movements for the show. In order to get in shape, the entire ensemble had to take part in a boot camp every morning, which was an hour of circuit training essentially, boxing, skipping, and running, sit ups and press ups. And then we spent all morning going through the physical routines, it really is what makes the play really special actually. What might be a page of dialogue turns out to be a 20 minute movement sequence of Christopher going from Swindon to London and that’s unlike anything I have ever done before – it’s so great to be a part of it.
How has the response been at the stage door? Have you had any fan-girling?
You always get people outside the stage door coming to say they have really enjoyed the show, that’s really lovely and really sweet. And it’s good to see that people are enjoying what you are doing.
How did you cope with the maths at the end of the show?
It was a struggle! Maths is definitely not my strong point. I’m pretty good at learning, and I got through most of the play pretty quickly but the maths equation at the end of the show took me about a month to learn just because I did not understand it at all. But once I understood it and I learnt it, it sunk in, I got there. But it was definitely hard work.
Would you say in your life, like Christopher in the play, you had a teacher who helped you and who identified with you?
I think I’ve been really, really lucky, and I’ve had quite a few actually. Outside of school as well, in drama clubs and my old tap dancing teacher. And when I went and did A-levels and when I went to Drama School, I was blessed to have so many wonderful teachers who were supportive and helpful. Without them, I wouldn’t be an actor, that’s for sure.
Would you be able to describe the play in five words?
I think it’s a beautiful play with the production values of a big west end show.
What is next for you after this tour?
You don’t start auditioning for jobs until a couple of months before the job starts, and we’re working on this until mid-November, it’s a little too soon to tell. I’d certainly love to carry on working in theatre, playing parts like the brilliant Christopher Boone, they’re few and far between, but if I get an opportunity, I’d love to do it. I’d love to work at the National again, maybe go back to the Royal Shakespeare Company, there’s loads of places I’d love to work in. So many wonderful places, so many wonderful parts, I just hope something comes my way I guess!
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time runs at Nottingham Theatre Royal from Tuesday 24th March – Saturday 11th April. Visit their website for more info: www.trch.co.uk
More information about the tour can be found here: http://www.curiousonstage.com/tour/