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With the performing arts facing a bleak future due to Covid-19, various productions are being revisited and steamed on line. One such is the Olivier Award-winning production from the Old Vic (in association with Bristol Old Vic) of Sally Cookson’s adaptation of the 2011 best-selling novel by Patrick Ness – A Monster Calls. The inspiration for the plot however is credited to Siobhan Dowd who tragically died before being able to write her book.
This is a powerful and challenging piece of physical theatre focusing on 13 year old Conor, whose mother is terminally ill. He is struggling with school bullies, pent up anger, fear and frustration. One night a monster calls from the ancient yew tree beyond his window and the mysterious appearance recounts three fables, challenging Conor to unveil the fourth by telling the truth.
Visionary director Sally Cookson’s inventive flair is exceptional and here the minimal staging is repeatedly reliant on a combination of intricately tangled ropes and aerial supports that form the central gnarled tree, all with great effect. Complex choreography, ladders, chairs and the actors bodies balance the blend between fantasy and reality.
A skillful ensemble cast illustrate this tale of grief and heartbreak as young Conor is forced to face up to mortality and understand the truth. A robust, domineering presence from Stuart Goodwin as the monster, adept not only on the ropes but also on stilts, as he pushes the young boy to confront his deepest emotions. There is fine support too from John Leader (school bully Harry), Selina Cadell (grandma) and Marianne Oldham as the dying single Mum. A remarkable and moving performance from Matthew Tennyson as the vulnerable Conor coming to terms with his harrowing isolation and the enormity of his situation.
This is imaginative, poignant storytelling conducted with great sensitivity.