THEATRE REVIEW: A Monster Calls ★★★★★
A Monster Calls
Bristol Old Vic
Thursday 7th June 2018
Based on the book by Patrick Ness, with the original concept from the late Siobhan Dowd, who at the time of writing had cancer and never got to see her vision blossom, A Monster Calls tells the story of 13 year-old Conor O’Malley, whose mum is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and at 12:07 every night gets called from the yew tree in the distance from their house. The Monster, as the tree is referenced, tells Conor three tales of which relates to how humans are designed with flaws, whilst a fourth brings Conor’s worst nightmare to the forefront.
Directed by the beautifully talented Sally Cookson (Jane Eyre, Hetty Feather), this co-production from the Old Vic and Bristol Old Vic brings the critically acclaimed book, which has since been made into a live action film, to life so exquisitely on stage! Cooksons’ direction is a huge accolade if there ever was one to the simple fact that there was not a dry eye in the house, as this emotional draining 2 hours 15 minute production hurtled through at such speed whilst maintaining a slick and perfectly timed transitions throughout! The true testament to this production though is the powerhouse company that we see on stage; Matthew Tennyson (Conor) and Marianne Oldham (Mum) will truly break your heart and further continue to crush it as their chemistry on stage is revolutionary and completely captivate the audience with their dialogue, which also goes for the rest of the cast, who multirole many characters with such clarity to each creation!
I want to also comment of visually how stunning the simplicity of the set is, a beautifully thought-provoking white box space which comes to life with thanks from Dick Straker’s compelling projection design, whilst mixed with Mike Beer’s and Aideen Malone’s Sound and Lighting, which really stood out to me within the second tale that the monster tells, right before the interval, as conor’s dreams and his reality comes crashing down in a beautiful sequence which is furthermore heartbreaking thanks to Selina Cadells’ portrayal of Grandma.
It is a guarantee that I will come back to revisit this production as it continues to evolve, even more so when it arrives in London later this year, due to the sheer brilliance and thought that has gone into every detail, from the colossal design scale of the monster, beautifully visualised through ropes draping down from the rig above, right through to the smallest details in regards to Conor’s more personal items, which are at times sprawled out on stage.
Overall, A Monster Calls is an emotionally charged and engaging masterpiece which shows that Sally Cookson is an unstoppable force at bringing such elegant creations to life on stage for so many to see, no matter what age, in this beautiful adaptation of a much loved book.