A Monster Calls – review
Old Vic

Words by: Isaac Tomiczek | Published: Friday, July 27, 2018 4:31 PM

Its messages and themes resonate as deeply as the roots of the Yew Tree at the very centre of the story

When a monster calls what do you do? If you’re Conor, the 13-year-old protagonist of this spellbinding and often spectacular play, then you allow it to take you on an adventure. A Monster Calls is precisely that, a mesmerising adventure wrapped in a journey of teenage self-discovery, grief, love and ultimately growth.


This production devised by The Company adapted by the Old Vic from the novel by Patrick Ness and an idea by Siobhan Dowd is a master class in making wild use of seemingly very little but its messages and themes resonate as deeply as the roots of the Yew Tree at the very centre of the story.


Thirteen-year-old Conor and his mum have managed just fine since his dad moved to America. But now his mum’s sick and she’s not getting any better. His gran won’t stop interfering and kids at school won’t look him in the eye.


Then, one night, at seven minutes past midnight, Conor is woken by something at his window. A monster has come walking. It’s come to tell Conor tales from when it walked before. And when it’s finished, Conor must tell his own story and face his deepest fears.


This is not your usual tall tale, there are in fact three tales told by the Monster, each one being more visually inventive than the last and each one reminding you that you’re watching something far slicker, smarter and more superb than your average. Each one is fully realised and performed by the entire cast who combine to create not only the characters in the tales but also bring the Monster and his long reaching limbs to life. At its best moments there are dizzying elements of circus, dance and heightened movement choreography as well as a fantastically considered score to cast your gaze on and then bubbling underneath are the deeply powerful and pitch perfect messages woven into words and action.


The audience I watched it with was smattered with children and young people and it was clear that like myself many were deeply affected and moved by the overt riffs on death, grief, loss and love but also inspired and electrified by the calls for action and awareness about nature, the need for patience and tolerance and the importance of stories for creating change and confidence in ones self.


There is also a visual sense of community, teamwork and collaboration in the way the cast are nearly always ever present on stage, forming two banks flanking Conor during many of his scenes, even interacting and influencing them. To this reviewer it suggested the need for a community to help raise a child and that their input will ultimately help them shape a sense of themselves. The use of suspended ropes also signified themes of support, restraint, strength, history and ties that bind.


Once the first show stopping monster sequence begins the edge of your seat barely has enough room left to perch on.

The set with its chairs, ropes and a small room housing two musicians providing the live score is a deceptively inventive use of the stage and once the first show stopping monster sequence begins the edge of your seat barely has enough room left to perch on.


But all of this is enhanced because of a uniformly excellent cast. I particularly felt immense electricity in the performances of Matthew Tennyson as Conor, Witney White as his best friend Lily, John Leader as his school nemesis Harry and of course Stuart Goodwin as the Monster but because of the nature of this production everyone involved gets a moment that lands perfectly.


This is definitely a tale worth seeing and hearing soon, so answer the call and go.



Info: A Monster Calls is at the Old Vic until Aug 25, 2018 | book tickets




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