Quick Change Reviews: A Monster Calls (Tour)
A Monster Calls is quite simply, an exquisite piece of theatre. Capturing the fractures and frustrations of love and loss, it forces an audience to confront everything that they know and understand about nobility, hope and truth.
Based on the novel originally imagined by Siobhan Dowd and penned by Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls follows a young teen called Conor as he faces his demons. He sees them at night-time when he closes his eyes to be greeted by a grizzling repetitive nightmare, and in the school playground as bullies torment and tease. They follow him in the shape of his mostly absent father and in his traditional grandmother, who both truly believe that they have his best intentions at heart. But most of all, he sees his demons when he sees his ill-stricken, beloved mother.
One night, Conor opens his bedroom window to the ancient yew tree in the garden. Ferociously alive and determined, the monster presents Conor with a series of fables that will lead him to face his anxieties and fears in sharing a fourth tale. Sally Cookson’s direction tears down emotional boundaries by creating a safe space for imagination and projection.
The dynamic ensemble works unanimously; they move in perfect synchronisation, breathe in rhythm and hold one another up. Every movement, directed by Dan Canham, is executed with a poignant purpose and highlights the beauty we often seek yet take for granted in others and their presence and gestures. The movement of the ensemble perfectly punctuates the sublime original orchestration from Benji Bower, played live with an electrifying presence. As Conor proceeds his solitary morning routine, he is handed his school uniform to dress and bag to pack, as Bower's underscore invites us into the tranquillity of the welcomed normal ritual within the chaos of our protagonist's life. From the appearance of kitchen appliances to turn the kettle on and make a cup of tea during smaller, quiet moments, to the large, ground shaking ones within the show, Bower's stirring soundtrack teamed with delicate foley sound expertly suggests emotion.
Made up of ceiling scaling, thick and hearty ropes, the monster comes alive and twists and turns with the stories he tells. Keith Gilmore’s presence at the core of the yew demands attention with sincerity and dignity, his echoed bellows ensure that his tales are etched into your memory as a lovers’ initials often are on a tree trunk.
The accompanying visuals are just as striking. Combining aerial acrobatics, clever illusion and contemporary movement, audiences travel to faraway kingdoms to meet a conflicted prince, and to distant towns to observe a quick-tempered apothecary. They follow Conor on a route of destruction, before falling into his repetitive nightmare to meet, with bated breath, the inevitable. Merging raw reality with freeing fantasy, this is storytelling at its finest.
Tooled with a projection screen, a couple of dozen school chairs and household items, the show provides space for the story to develop and grow until it is all-encompassing. Ammar Duffus’ portrayal of Conor is powerful and passionate; rarely off-scene he embodies inner turmoil with inquisitive impatience and nervous, frantic energy that transcends the audience with looming anticipation. Maria Omakinwa as Conor’s mother and Kaye Brown as grandmother pour honest performances showing strength as two halves of the same coin, which is a valuable message repeated in the show. With honour and dignity, the truth about grief and heartache is stripped and laid bare to its bones.
Every single person who plays a role in A Monster Calls has come together to collectively create a piece of theatre that is utterly breathtaking. Cookson’s production needs to be seen and treasured by audiences young and old, near and far. It silenced the audience, before bringing them to their feet in unified applause.
A Monster Calls plays Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 22nd February before continuing on the UK tour.