A Monster Calls
The Old Vic, London
Seen August 18th, 2018
Reviewed by Jade Prince
This has been on my list of things to see and I thought I wouldn’t have the chance to see it at The Old Vic but I am so happy I did. I was reading everything on-line and everyone was raving about the show. My heart warms when I say that this show did not disappoint. It exceeded so many of those reviews!
The original book (by Patrick Ness) was aimed towards the children’s literature genre and I have to confess, my childhood was shocking when it came to literature. The books I read were never iconic or influential so it was safe to say that I knew nothing about ‘A Monster Calls’. I didn’t even realise it was a book! It is not the standard storyline. The imagination of a child but the struggles of an adult torment Conor (Matthew Tennyson). I feel it is safe to say that Conor feels alone in this darkening world. His father (Felix Hayes) took off and headed to America, he is dealing with the impending doom of losing his very own mother (Marianne Oldham) and a Grandma (Selina Cadell) determined not to let any family incident knock her off her throne. It focuses on morals, truth and acceptance of ones self.
The whole show put me in this incredible trance! It was so mesmerising to the point where one of the clock clangs scared the sh*t out of me! Violently slapped me right out of that trance!
Lets look at the set, I loved the versatility of the white box set. Normally the white box is never used to its full potential however ‘A Monster Calls‘ used every single millimetre. A giant canvas for projections, a way to mask the two-man band (Benji Bower and Will Bower) when needed and then have then on full display in the next scene. It also provided a wonderful back drop for the tree. The shadows cast were super. Occasionally when multiple lights were up hitting the tree from different front angles, a couple of different tree shadows appeared in the background. I am not sure if this was intentional but it was a great addition to some of the stories told by the Yee Tree, especially those that you could picture being set in a forest!
It was an unusual take on a ‘monster’. The book is aimed at children but the typical monster appearance was not adopted. There were no elaborate costumes or masks or gruesome features to distinguish the monster however the addition of the set itself created this illusion. The human appearance probably made it more terrifying. Monsters aren’t always these huge, grizzly creatures, they walk among you and I down the street.
I went into this show not knowing what to expect. I was in awe when the ropes (which I initially thought were for decoration) morphed into a tree. It was such a unique way of representing it. There was nothing standard about it. Michael Vale was definitely not looking for an easy route when envisioning this! The way it effortlessly travelled around the stage taking different shapes and sizes, just like an actual tree would as its branches are waltzed around by the wind. I take my hat off to the cast having to manoeuvre those ropes. Moving one is heavy, let alone 3-4!
Amongst the ropes was a spectacular dance carried out with so much precision across the stage. Even by those suspended in the air. This was great. For me the child element of the characters came out. I don’t know, it’s kind of the standard thing, isn’t it? Only being able to picture children sitting on tree branches. Maybe…just me, okay.
The script was great on its own however the music was an added bonus. I just kept thinking to myself “I need a soundtrack of this.” It was a mix of both relaxing but also heightened intensity. It was a strange combination however work incredibly well. Music can have a really big influence on a show both positively and negatively. A lot of the times it’s not needed though the decision to include music in ‘A Monster Calls‘ nurtured a completely different depth of the show. Music-wise, they didn’t just rely on the ambient music but also had a very talented woman hidden in the cast who was able to strikingly lend her voice to the story. I didn’t think it could get better and then Nandi Bhebhe started singing. The scene where Nandi was singing in the tree was sensational!
All in all, this is the piece of theatre that everyone is needing to see without even realising it. It’s raw yet so powerful and I think I could honestly keep going with this review. More elements keep popping into my head as I write but I need to stop. The ending had me in tears and when those house lights came up in the auditorium I had this uncontrollable need to break down and cry. Even walking out of the theatre I was willing myself not to cry. But I know I wasn’t the only one like this. A couple of seats over from me a boy, who must have been able 16, was doing exactly what I wanted to do. Hunch over and sob. That my friends is a sign of a bloody marvellous show!
I am so happy I got to see it before it closes.
‘A Monster Calls‘ is at the Old Vic until August 25th so get down there ASAP!
Show and ticket information can be found here.