A Monster Calls, adapted from the Patrick Ness novel
Runs: 2h 20m: one interval: till 22 February
A must-see production
On a stage, bare but for some dangling ropes and a few light, institutional-type chairs, a newborn baby, Conor, is being introduced by his mother (Maria Omakinwa) to the yew tree in their garden. From this prologue onwards, there are two central characters in this wonderful production: the 13-year-old Conor (Ammar Duffus), whose mother is dying of cancer, and the yew tree, personified in Conor’s nightmares by the Monster (Keith Gilmore).
The Monster begins as a terrifying threat but, as realization gradually takes over, it becomes something else. All this is helped by back projection of blood-like berry juice – back projection throughout is a brilliant feature. And there’s a marvelously non-maudlin soundtrack, partly from live musicians raised up at the back, upstage left.
No one tells Conor what’s wrong with his mother, and he doesn’t ask. Nor will he confide in a concerned teacher about the constant bullying he’s being subjected to – Greg Bernstein is frightening authentic as the school nasty, Harry. One of Harry’s lackeys, Anton (Kel Matsena), is sympathetic but always pulls back from a confrontation with Harry. Neither his grandma (Kaye Brown) nor his mostly absent father (Ewan Wardrop) can properly communicate. And he rejects a close schoolfriend who wants to help him.
But near end come two crucial cathartic moments. In his frustration and rage, Conor trashes a room in the house, and in response his grandma breaks out into a despairing groan/scream.
This is a distinguished ensemble production. From the bits where Conor is getting himself ready for school to the maneuvering of the ropes to suggest all sorts of things, including the yew tree, it’s beautifully done expressionist and physical theatre, with terrific mime throughout.
Nevertheless, in an evening of fine acting from Duffus and the others, it’s Gilmore’s performance as the Monster that lingers on the mind. His imposing physique, stage presence and finely articulated Scots voice are absolutely right for the part.
The original novel was written for young adults. But this production, packed as it is with universal significance, is a must-see for everyone (except, that is, for younger children). A Monster Calls deserved the standing ovation it received on press night.
Harry/Ensemble: Greg Bernstein
Grandma/Ensemble: Kaye Brown
Musician: Seamus Carey
Swing: Raffaella Covino
Conor: Ammar Duffus
Monster/Ensemble: Keith Gilmore
Sully/Ensemble: Jade Hackett
Lily/Ensemble: Cora Kirk
Anton/Ensemble: Kel Matsena
Mum/Ensemble: Maria Omakinwa
Musician: Luke Potter
Miss Godfrey/Ensemble: Sarah Quist
Mr Marl/Ensemble: Paul Sockett
Dad/Ensemble: Ewan Wardrop
Swing: Samuel Wood
Director: Sally Cookson
Writer in the Room: Adam Peck
Set Designer: Michael Vale
Composer: Benji Bower
Movement Director: Dan Canham
Costume Designer: Katie Sykes
Lighting Designer: Adeen Malone
Sound Designer: Mike Beer