Patrick Ness’ prize-winning novel A Monster Calls is a touching and moving story of a young boy growing up and navigating grief. It has been adapted for the stage by director Sally Cookson who breaths piercing power into this heart-wrenching story. Through thrilling physicality, commanding storytelling and stirring music, the remarkable cast create a powerful theatrical experience.
Crossing real life with a fable like tale it is weaved together to create an imaginative piece of theatre. Conor is a 13 year-old boy whose mother is poorly. In-between being bullied at school and coping with his mother’s cancer, Conor finds himself struggling. A yew tree his mother always admired that was outside their window comes to life in the form of a monster and guides Conor by telling him stories and encouraging to tell him ‘his truth.’
The Monster puts a lot of pressure on Conor who is trying to face his emotions. Cookson’s direction mixed with Michael Vale’s design uses hanging rope that twists and tangles to create the tree. Keith Gilmore plays the role with authority as he dominates the stage with his roaring voice and physical presence.
Sally Cookson is undoubtably one of the most innovative directors of our time and the way she tells stories on stage is extraordinary. Her stylistic approach that is simple yet striking creates a real experience for the audience – which is perfect for a play so rich in emotions.
Ammar Duffus is exceptional in the role of Conor. The way he encapsulates the playful innocence of a 13 year-old boy is entirely convincing. Maturing throughout the show as he comes to terms with his feelings, Ammar’s performance is incredibly moving. His natural characterisation and the way he so easily taps into the emotion allows you to form a deep connection with him and go on this journey alongside him – which makes the final scene even more poignant.
With a soundtrack by Benji Bower that creates the echoing tension during the piece really amplifies the emotions. A Monster Calls lays grief bare on the stage and captures the complexity of it in the most affecting way. If anyone has gone through watching a loved one slip away and the apprehension of urging them to get better will resonate deeply with this show.
A Monster Calls is a devastating and poignant piece of theatre that tackles grief in the most honest way. As something people really shy away from talking about, it’s touching to see a story tackle it head on in such a cathartic way opens up those important conversations about something we all experience in life. Not only that, but it’s also a visionary piece of theatrical genius.
A Monster Calls is on at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre until the 7th of March before continuing on tour.