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Armchair Reviewers Club - Round Up of Week 10 (A Monster Calls)

Hello, it is time for another week of Armchair Reviewers. This week we’re looking at A Monster Calls, directed by Sally Cookson, and based on the novel by Patrick Ness.

I’d previously seen one of Sally’s shows at Bristol Old Vic where she presented a really unique take on Peter Pan set in a junkyard. It was a fantastically imaginative production, so I sat down to this one with high expectations.

A Monster Calls
follows 13-year-old Conor, who is bullied at school and coping with his mother dying of cancer. At 12:07am an enormous monster visits to tell Conor three fantastical tales and, in return, Conor will reveal his truth.

One of the big elements which grabbed me initially was the set, or rather lack of it, as one reviewer describes:

‘We enter a blank white space, a void of nothing but Conor. Throughout the story, it is him, almost struggling to comprehend what’s around him, whether it be each individual item for his breakfast, or the towering grandfather clock. His whole world has fallen away, as he struggles to comprehend his mother’s condition. The use of projection is particularly striking, adding an edge of chaos during his nightmares’.

Jo via Email

I completely agree here, the minimal staging was so effectively used, as it efficiently created various spaces, without it feeling lost. This minimalism is further proven when we meet the monster.

‘I loved the use of the ropes in the piece, firstly creating this spider-like monster, who filled the stage with his limbs, then used in an array of ways for the monster to tell his stories. Just when I felt the ropes were all loose and tangled, one swift movement, and the ropes would form back into a Yew Tree. Masterfully done.’

Graham via email

‘The Monster, wonderfully portrayed by Stuart Goodwin, is an imposing figure, with or without his stilts. His costume evokes imagery of a character of folklore – a person of an ancient time. But the fact that he is so clearly a man enforces the father figure he is to Conor. The hug at the end, particularly powerful.’

Lilly via Email

‘the thick ropes, twisting, tangling, exploding all over the stage. Suspended amongst it, is the bare chested Stuart Goodwin, a dominant booming presence. The humanism of the monster highlights the perfect paradox between him being the monster and the teacher.’

Tom via Email

I completely agree with all of these thoughts; the monster was such a gigantic presence, and the use of rope was inventively used without it feeling contrived at any point. The simple trick of turning the loose ropes into a tree was particularly wonderful to see.

Here are some of your other thoughts on this piece:

‘a beautiful story, elegantly told. Full of exciting staging, movement and music. But at its heart it’s a sentimental story of a boy coping with the enormity of his mother’s last days.’

Jo via email

‘I loved The Bower Brothers’ score, accompanying the slick scenes and transitions. It gives a smooth, slick piece. It’s both dream-like but also brutally real.
Conor was magnificently performed; I really got the sense of a 13 year old boy struggling to make sense of it all. This is pushed further by the stark white set, and the whole ensemble fabricating the world around him.’

Lilly via Email

‘Metaphors and myths are so powerful! I was totally absorbed in this painful tale of bullying and loss. Congratulations to the choreographer and movement director (as well as the writers, of course). The melting of one scene into another fused myth with the awful reality of the family’s plight, while the tree - in all its forms - was mesmerising. Tremendous acting, too, from Matthew Tennyson, as 13 year old Conor. From that opening and the stoic deliberation with which he ate his breakfast Shreddies, we knew we were in for something special. Could watch this play again and again. And again.’

Alison via Email

‘With the minimal set, props and white walls, I thought we’d be in for an alternative look at this beloved tale. However it was soon apparent that they did not strip back from any of the emotion or the raw beauty of this piece. It’s a heartfelt story, a high wire circus piece, an abstract musical performance all in one.

The cast do well to create the spaces and rooms in each scene. The symbolism, metaphor, and importance in folklore are central throughout the piece. I would definitely recommend this to anyone and everyone’

Lilly via Email

As always, thank you so much for all of your contributions to this week’s reviewers. For next week we are going to look at Graeae’s Reasons To Be Cheerful, which can be found here:

As always make sure to share your thoughts, either via social media or by e-mailing [email protected]

Take Care, Reviewers!

Dan Whateley
Programming and Events Coordinator