13-year-old Conor (Ammar Duffus, Left) and The Monster (Keith Gilmore, Right). Image: Manuel Harlan

‘A Monster Calls’ showcases that the power of storytelling is often understated.

However, as stated by the Monster in Sally Cookson’s production of ‘A Monster Calls’: “You let stories loose, who knows what havoc they’ll wreak” – and this is something that both the audience and our protagonist must find out together. 

As the Lowry Theatre welcomed ‘A Monster Calls’ from the 25th to the 29th of February, the audiences were submerged into a “myriad of Northern talent.”

‘A Monster Calls’ tells the story of Conor (Ammar Duffus), a 13-year-old boy facing a raft of troubles.

His mother (Maria Omakinwa) is seriously ill, his father (Ewan Wardrop) rarely looks back from his new life in America, Conor is relentlessly bullied at school, tormented with the cruelest of attacks.

And yet, Conor soldiers on as normal, however, this does not last for long, as evening falls and a monster calls.

“When I have finished my three stories, you will tell me a fourth, and it will be the truth.”

The Monster (Keith Gilmore), visits Conor every night at precisely 12:07. He declares that he shall tell Conor three stories, and that afterwards he must tell his own story – a truth he has been running from for a very long time.

This allows the story to explore a range of hard-hitting issues, from acceptance to self-destruction, granting the audience a rare insight into the psyche of a 13-year-old boy, terrified of losing his mother.

The set, designed by Michael Vale, was simplistic in nature, with audience members clearly able to see the workings of the theatre in an almost Brechtian fashion.

The blank floor and walls were complimented beautifully by Aideen Malone’s lighting design, which cast a wash of otherworldly colours across the set as the play began.

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I found myself banding between the chaos of Conor’s dreams and the tranquility of his home in the blink of an eye – and this could never have been achieved without the simplistic versatility of this production’s design.

The Monster shows Conor the true meaning of destruction – Image: Manuel Harlan

The story itself was outstanding.

From the outset, it feels as though little is set in stone.

Conor leads a very inconsistent life, and as the play progresses the audience is fed a subtle yet steady stream of questions and mysteries. It is easy to misinterpret the meaning of the Monster’s stories, but sooner or later all is made quite clear.

There are countless moments which left me emotionally dumbfounded, including the end of the first act, leaving me open-mouthed and ravenous for the second act.

However, throughout ‘A Monster Calls’ I felt as though there were several occasions on which the actors themselves were so enthralled by the story that they seemed to almost break character, as though they were indulging in the beauty of their own lines – and this unfortunately led to a jarring loss of immersion on the few occasions when it happened

Conor and his mother. – Image: Manuel Harlan

The character of Conor is beautifully developed throughout the play. He is clearly in denial of his own situation, of his mother’s ill health – and he is enraged by the idea of living with his grandmother, who he seems to regard as a symbol of his mother’s condition.

Conor strives for independence, and yet his biggest fear is being ignored or left alone. He suffers most when he is faced with this concept, and this is unfortunately something realised all too quickly by the bullies.

Conor faces a relentless bullying campaign at school. Image: Manuel Harlan

The sound design of this production was simply impeccable. Designed by Mike Beer, all of the sounds within the production were performed diagetically from a box built into the back wall of the set. The soundtrack featured a plethora of punchy synths and wailing vocoders, as well as an arrangement of stringed instruments.

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From the powerful sounds of the Monster coming to life to the heart-wrenching one-to-one conversations between Conor and his mother, each scene was given a distinctive audio footprint, which in turn gave a unique emotional boost to the action.

‘A Monster Calls’ is a must-see.

From start to finish, I felt true empathy for Conor and his mother, with their heartache and desperation flowing in waves across the auditorium.

When all is said and done and the play draws towards its close, the audience is teased with a final question, the answer to which is somehow both heartbreaking and heartwarming, and further warranted the standing ovation given to this captivating production.

This piece of accessible yet abstract theatre is sure to captivate hearts and minds as it continues its nationwide tour, and I wish it the very best.

For more information and how to get tickets, visit their website at: https://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2020/a-monster-calls-2

One Comment

  1. Jennifer. M

    Jolly good stuff Ollie.

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