REVIEW: A Monster Calls, Old Vic Theatre (Online)

This is a powerful portrait of grief, love and guilt that has been mesmerisingly brought to life in Sally Cookson’s production.

There is one emotion that we all feel that can link to other types emotions: grief. From love to anger it pushes all other emotions to the brink and this is what A Monster Calls portrays so beautifully.

Thirteen year old Conor lives with his mum but his dad lives in America and now his mum is sick. He is having trouble with the other kids at school and his relationship with his Grandmother is tense. But every night, Conor is tormented by nightmares, and a monster who has tales of its own to share before Connor must tell his own.

Written by Patrick Ness and inspired by an idea by Siobhan Dowd, A Monster Calls has been imaginatively and sensitively brought to life by Sally Cookson in a production that highlights the pain that accompanies love, loss, moving forward and acceptance.

As in her previous productions, Cookson brings the story to life in her own unique vision, in particular the use of thick rope to make the yew tree (an important element of the show) and used in a variety of ways that allows the audience to use their own imagination. Throughout everything that happens, you feel as though you are experiencing everything through Conor’s eyes. It combines the fantasy elements of the stories that the monster tells with reality in a sleek way – as seen through the way n which characters switch positions seamlessly initially such as when Conor gets ready for school.

The production also enhances the rawness of the story and emotions – in particular the moments in which Conor trashes up his grandmother’s home or when he is finally forced to confront his own story and the guilt that he feels are powerfully staged with the help of Aideen Malone’s gorgeously sensitive lighting design and Benji Bower’s music. The final moments in the production is some of the most heartbreakingly powerful minutes I have ever seen in a theatre production.

But at the heart of it is a truly sensational performance from Matthew Tennyson as Conor, capturing his pain, anger and denial at his mum’s condition in a truly believable and heartbreaking way. Even watching it on screen, it is a performance that you can feel his fear and guilt seeping through everything making it in places difficult to watch but completely absorbing nonetheless. Stuart Goodwin delivers a powerful performance that is filled with contrasts – on the one hand you can see why Conor is by turns fascinated and fears him but also towards the end you see a more humane side to the monster that helps Conor to confront his deepest fear. Elsewhere, Marianne Oldham offers a lovely performance as mum, capturing her illness with honesty, while Selina Cadell as the practical and slightly emotionally detached grandmother keeps everything grounded.

A Monster Calls is a theatrically powerful production – it sweeps you effortlessly into Conor’s world and never fails to move you emotionally. There is nothing flashy or showy about the way in which the story is unfolded, perfectly capturing the sensitivity of the subjects in which are covered. Simply stunning.

By Emma Clarendon

A Monster Calls is available to watch until the 11th June.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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