A Monster Calls
Bristol Old Vic
Friday 15 June 2018 7.30pm
The Bristol Old Vic website warns that A Monster Calls, contains difficult themes of death, grief and terminal illness which some people may find distressing, even before you click on the Book button.
It’s not wrong. This exquisite piece of ensemble theatre avoids sentimentality. But its raw and accurate portrayal of the impending decline and death of Conor’s (Matthew Tennyson) mother (Marianne Oldham) was such that at one point I couldn’t even look at the stage.
Initially, for that reason, I wasn’t going to watch this play. But the lure of creative names including Sally Cookson, Benji Bower, Will Bower, Adam Peck, Katie Sykes and Felix Hayes was too strong to ignore.
This stage adaptation of Patrick Ness’ book featuring a Monster (Stuart Goodwin) responding to the anguish of a child, was beautifully staged through physical theatre, puppetry and a series of ropes which cleverly brought the ginormous, dynamic tree to life.
But what Sally Cookson achieves through creative, yet shrewd direction is the perfect balance between action and stillness. The pace keeps moving, yet isn’t afraid the give the audience time to see the awkwardness between Conor sitting eating chips with his estranged dad (Felix Hayes). Or the silent, ominous car journeys with Grandma (Selina Cadell).
There are moments of humour – when Conor tries to find his clothes and belongings cast around the stage.
And moments of stress – my eleven year old nodded sagely at Nandi Bhebhe’s ineffective and unfair bullying interventions. And I became quite frustrated at the perfectly observed inability of adults to be honest with children. Prepare them. Support them.
But it’s part of the play’s themes. How can someone be right yet wrong? Good yet bad? Protect a loved one but fail them? Love someone but need them to die.
This is a wonderful piece of theatre but a challenging watch, perhaps more so for adults than children. Most of us have been affected by cancer and though the story is told through the eyes of a child, the emotions, journey and anger it compels is not restricted by age.
It finishes its run tonight – Saturday 16 June 2018.
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