A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Old Vic on line to 11 June 2020. 5*****. William Russell.

Filmed theatre is always a hit and miss affair, but this film of director Sally Cookson’s massively praised production manages what seems the impossible – to show just what audiences are losing because of the shut down of theatres today. It is in every sense a piece theatre, yet as a film it puts the viewer there in a seat in the audience watching a group of actors with some chairs, some back projections and a lot of ropes create the world in which a young boy comes to terms with the fact his mother is dying of cancer. At a time like this it should be depressing beyond belief, but it is anything but.
Connor O’Malley lives with his mother who has terminal cancer. His father is in America with a new wife and family. Grandmother, a fine performance from Selina Cadell, is seen by him as an enemy.Nobody has told him the truth about his mother’s illness. He has nightmares, is bullied at school, conjures up a vision of a monster in the form of a yew tree who challenges him with stories and becomes in the end the father figure lacking in his life. In his anger he has trashed his grandmother’s living room, fallen out with his father and keeps failing to realise just what his mother is trying to tell him behind the facade of being someone still fighting when it is a fight she knows she will lose. It works after an initial feeling that the cast run about a lot and the way the exploit those ropes stops to feel tricky and almost too clever and becomes powerful. There is also a superb performance from Matthew Tennyson as Conor to provide the anchor the piece needs. He is infuriating, pitiful, abused and quite ruthless in his determination not to understand. The piece does devised by writer Adam Peck and the cast does full justice to the novel Ness wrote inspired by an idea for the story by Siobhan Dowd.

Grandma: Selina Cadell.
Monster: Stuart Goodwin.
Dad: Felix Hayes.
Harry: John Leader.
Mum: Marianne Oldham.
Conor: Matthew Tennyson.
Ensemble: Witney White, Jonathan Holby, Matt Costain, Georgia Frost, Hammed Animashaun, Nandu Bhebhe.

Director: Sally Cookson
Costume Desiner: Katie Sykes.
Sound: Mike Beer.
Cokmposer: Benji Bower.
Lighting: Aideen Malone.
Projection: Dick Straker.
Aerial: Matt Costain.
Fights: Rachel Bown-Williams & Ruth Cooper Brown.

Photograph: Manuel Harlan.

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