With theatres up and down the country still closed, many more theatres and companies are moving their achieved shows online so that we can enjoy them from the comfort of our own homes. Not only does this give us valuable entertainment, but it keeps the theatre industry in people’s minds and raises money for the companies. A recent online offering from the Bristol Old Vic was their critically acclaimed production of A Monster Calls, and it was unlike anything else that I had watched before.
Based on Patrick Ness’ 2011 novel of the same name, A Monster Calls tells the story of 13 year old Conor who is struggling to come to terms with the fact that his mother is terminally ill. During the night, Conor is visited by a monster who takes the form of a yew tree and comes to tell the young boy three stories. These strange tales teach Conor important lessons and guides him through his troubles, from his mother’s illness to dealing with the bullies who taunt him at school.
The story is told in a wonderfully simple and straight forward way, allowing the performances and plot to take centre stage without being overshadowed by over complicated staging. A row of seats line each side of the stage with ropes used to create the monster. It is basic yet incredibly inventive, especially the way in which the monster is created. Ropes are cleverly twisted together with Stuart Goodwin perched within the twists as the wise story telling yew tree monster.
Even though the main point of the plot line of A Monster Calls could easily be considered to be the mythical monster, it is actually a very human story. It’s about growing up, families, loss, belief and grief and touches upon many subjects that many can probably relate to. Through the stories we are taught the power of lies and the importance of belief, and these are things that can strike a cord with many I am sure. The role of Conor is played by Matthew Tennyson, and he carries the entire story on his shoulders. There is a believable bond with him and Stuart Goodwin as the monster as well as the powerful connection between Conor and his mother, played by Marianne Oldham. This is a highly emotive piece, and with Tennyson at the helm, we are taken on a emotional roller-coaster. Goodwin’s yew tree monster has an incredible presence, there is such power in his voice and he commands the attention of the audience whenever he is on stage.
Marianne Oldham pulls on the heartstrings as Conor’s terminally ill Mother, desperately trying to support her young son whilst trying to prepare him for a life without her. Selina Cadell also makes an impact as Conor’s grandmother as does Felix Hayes as his father visiting from his new life in America. The ensemble play many roles throughout the production, from Conor’s class mates to characters in the monster’s strange stories, and it is this ensemble that keeps the story moving forwards so powerfully. With so little set, the ensemble become the settings, become the story.
Dick Straker’s projection combined with Aideen Malone’s lighting and Mike Beer’s sound gives the piece a very atmospheric feel. This is a show that doesn’t need flash or glitz. It’s very stripped back and raw, much like the emotions that it deals with. I hope that once the theatres are reopen again that this production finds its way back to the stage because I feel that it tells an important story and one that would strike a cord with many an audience member