Review: A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls is a children’s fantasy book that deals with some very adult issues. The author, Patrick Ness, does a great job embracing some of the darker elements of life but keeping them in a perspective that is accessible for children. The critically acclaimed book has been adapted into a stage production, showing at London’s Old Vic theatre. Somehow, the cast and crew are able to take this incredibly complex story and transform it into a live masterpiece.

A Monster Calls tells the story of Conor (Matthew Tennyson), a 13-year-old boy whose mother (Marianne Oldham) is very sick. He begins to struggle in his relationships and at school. Eventually, a monster (Stuart Goodwin) appears at his window and begins to tell him three tales. Conor must come up with a tale of his own to tell the monster, or, the beast threatens, he will be eaten. Three powerful stories are told and Conor eventually has a tale of his own.

A Monster Calls at The Old Vic

This is not an easy plot to put into play format, but the cast and crew are able to do it handily, giving the audience plenty to cheer for by the end. Be warned: this is a heavy story that is highly capable of eliciting strong emotions from even the most stoic of spectators. Between the incredibly sad story, intensely glum soundtrack, and gut-wrenching performances of the cast, this one really tugs at the heartstrings. With all that said, it is truly a production that should not be missed by anyone who has the chance to see it.

Young Matthew Tennyson gives an outstanding performance as Conor, the troubled boy who is tormented by nightmares and grappling with the seemingly imminent death of his mother. Whether he is grieving alone on stage or interacting with other characters, audience members will truly feel the pain that he is going through. Tennyson’s performance only grows stronger as the play goes on, and it is nearly impossible not to feel immensely for him by the end.

The rest of the cast provides a perfect complement to Tennyson. Marianne Oldham plays his ailing but loving mother, and she does it with a graceful melancholy that will draw the audience in. Selina Cadell plays a chilling grandmother who only makes matters worse for Conor. As the detached and mostly absent father, Felix Hayes puts on a performance that makes it abundantly clear why Conor may have so many demons. Stuart Goodwin’s portrayal of the monster brings both fear and cooperation to the stage, telling haunting stories with perfect timing.

Sally Cookson is the director, and she does a beautiful job. This story is dark, disturbing, and deeply saddening, and Cookson is able to direct the cast to convey all of things perfectly. The direction is simple but powerful, and it thoroughly draws in the audience, flawlessly capturing the rawest of emotions. The barebones style allows us to really connect with the cast, and in a story where interpersonal relationships and emotions are so central to the theme, that is a major accomplishment.

A Monster Calls at The Old Vic

While the scenery is minimal, it provides the perfect backdrop for the story. Using very few props or effects, Cookson and set designer Michael Vale are able to produce stunning visuals and create an atmosphere that is not only easy on the eyes but also creeps into the mind. This is a story that relies on a sense of unease and doom, and the duo’s execution in bringing this is flawless.

The mood is further enhanced by the excellent sound direction of Mike Beer. Ominous, dooming noises emanate throughout the play, but only at appropriate moments. There is no overkill; the entire soundtrack is picked out meticulously, crafting an environment that is truly unsettling. The songs are also chosen wisely, rising and falling with the moods in the room and setting the stage for the upcoming scenes. Mike Beer really deserves a lot of credit for the feeling of the play – not enough can be said about how much the sound direction adds to the success of this show.

In addition to background music, there are songs that take the forefront with the cast singing. They all showcase their talent in this regard, helping to mold the haunting, otherworldly environment that envelops the entire story. Whether soloing or as an ensemble, the singing adds a lot to this play.

Despite being a children’s story, there is plenty of horror to go around in A Monster Calls. This horror, however, is necessary in learning how to deal with pain, grief, and loss. Many will walk away feeling empty and heartbroken, but that is truly the point of the story. Nobody wants to be sad, but it is important to understand that mourning is a necessary part of life. With Cookson’s fabulous direction, A Monster Calls can bring almost anyone to tears while providing us with many of the truths that we are unwilling to face on a daily basis.

Watch the amazing trailer below:

Get your tickets to see A Monster Calls at the Old Vic here: www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2018/a-monster-calls

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