Ammar Duffus as Conor surrounded by the ensemble cast. Picture: Manuel Harlan

A Monster Calls

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry


This Old Vic production entirely took me by surprise; ‘took’ me too in its enchanting use of storytelling, use of a stark set that used its actors to the Nth, with singing, dancing, aerial acrobatics and more throughout a moving, innovative and exhilarating experience.

Conor O’Malley (Ammar Duffus) is being bullied at school by Harry (Greg Bernstein) and Sully (Jade Hackett). Anton (Kel Matsena) looks on, conflicted too by knowing it was wrong but lacking the courage to intervene.

Conor’s friend Lily (Cora Kirk) stands up for him but his inability to face his fears causes a deep rift. Conor’s mum (Maria Omakinwa) has cancer and Conor knows in his heart that she will die. He is deeply conflicted by the doublethink that he wants her to live. Grandma (Kaye Browne) tries to support but Conor can’t share. Dad (Ewan Wardrop) comes over from America. There is conflict there too between Grandma and Dad, so layers of truth are hidden.

Help comes from an unlikely source; the healing spirit of an ancient yew tree, the monster (Keith Gilmore), wakes rarely to collect stories about truth and wants Conor’s story in exchange. The three stories from the monster are both gripping and disturbing, nothing is what it seems, the obvious is never the answer.

The monster visits Conor at 12.07 each night to tell the stories as he experiences ghastly night terrors that he daren’t share. His conflicts come out of knowing his mother will die, but hoping she won’t, feeling the guilt of wishing it all over for her but also for him. Letting go by facing the fears is just one of the messages of this powerful play. There are quite a few more.

Live and gripping music on stage add to the ambience; dramatic lighting effects and ropes swung from the rafters give shape to the drama.

I can see why Patrick Ness’s novel is a set text, recommended for age 10 and up, but the imagination required to put it on the stage makes this an outstanding achievement. Around me were schoolchildren openly sobbing as we reached our inevitable conclusion. This is, rightly, an absolute winner. Directed by Sally Cookson it ruins to 07-03-20

Jane Howard


Index page Belgrade Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre