AUDIENCES at Bristol Old Vic can see the world premiere performances of A Monster Calls until 16th June, when it moves to London’s Old Vic.
Directed by Sally Cookson, this first stage adaptation of the book started by Siobhan Dowd and completed by Patrick Ness is the story of 13-year-old Conor and how he deals with impending bereavement. It might not seem like ideal entertainment, but the play that Ness, Cookson and “writer in the room” Adam Peck have devised is a masterpiece of storytelling, psychological insight and rivetting performance.
The monster of the title is the spirit of the yew tree that lives in Conor’s garden, a powerful “green man” figure whose longevity has given him wisdom to temper his strength. The narrative fuses magic realism with violent reality. Classroom bullies and crotchety grandmothers, absentee fathers and unwelcomely incisive friends fill Conor’s days.
His dark hours are haunted by guilty nightmares. And at every turn, his powerlessness prevents his peace. There is no surprise outcome in this painfully raw tale of loss, but Sally Cookson and her exceptional cast have found a way to bring it to a life-affirming conclusion.
There are magnetically compelling performances by Matthew Tennyson as Conor, Selina Cadell as Grandma, Marianne Oldham as Mum and Stuart Goodwin as the monster in the 11-strong cast.
The music is (mostly) composed and performed by frequent Cookson collaborators Benji and Will Bower and vividly underscores the turmoil in Conor’s life and mind. Its volume is occasionally intrusive, but that might easily be adjusted before the play opens in London, after a further week of rehearsal.
A Monster Calls is another triumph for Sally Cookson and Bristol Old Vic, a shattering experience staged with huge visual and physical invention that will strike a chord with so many audiences.