Nottingham Theatre Royal – until 22 February 2020
Reviewed by Louise Ford
A Monster Calls; speak the truth ,it will set you free.
A Monster Calls is an adaptation (by Sally Cookson, in 2018) of the 2011 novel by Patrick Ness; a novel written for young adults which deals with a young boy coming to terms with his mother’s illness and whose fears grow when no one will really talk to him about it.
From the opening scene of the mother (Maria Omakinwa) nursing her young son to the final scene in the hospital the spectre of the yew tree casts a long shadow over the life of Connor (Ammar Duffus).The play is a powerful and emotional portrayal of Connor’s life, a twelve year old boy coming to terms with school, his family and most importantly his mother’s illness. It has a slow start which builds in intensity with the nightmare sequences, the frantic pace of school life and the decline of his mother’s health. All the time the anger within Connor builds until it finally irrupts and “people can see him.”
The set is minimal, just plain white, with twelve chairs and the ever present tree; a creative masterpiece using thick ropes hung from the roof. The tree can be at times threatening and ominous and at others nurturing and protective; with the potential to actually provide a cure. It comes into its own as the home of the Monster (Keith Gilmore).
The Monster is conjured up by Connor from his inner most fears and dread. It appears at 12.07 at night to taunt him, from the old yew tree in the garden. The taunting takes the form of stories. But, as in all good fairytales nothing is straightforward .
This is a modern fairytale that weaves together fables and legends with realistic circumstances, exploring human nature and relationships.
The score composed by Benji Bower enhances the action on stage and adds poignant refrains to the difficult and emotional scenes. The costumes and props are low key and simply allow the story telling to carry the plot along.
Overall it is a powerful, moving and emotional play which gives a voice to a young person’s inner most fears. It was lovely to see a younger, than usual, audience visibly moved by the final scenes .