Making a Monster – A Monster Calls comes to Coventry

After opening to huge critical acclaim in London in 2018, the Olivier Award-winning adaptation of A Monster Calls embarks on its first UK tour in 2020, visiting the Belgrade Theatre from 3-7 March.

The show is based on the Carnegie and Greenaway Medal-winning novel by Patrick Ness (the only book to have received both awards), itself based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd, but it is brought to the stage with a magic and power all its own thanks to the visionary talents of director Sally Cookson, whose previous work includes adaptations of La Strada, Jane Eyre and Hetty Feather.

Cast of A Monster Calls. Photo Manuel Harlan

In this richly imaginative retelling, the story of Conor O’Malley – a thirteen-year-old boy struggling to come to terms with his mother’s terminal illness – is presented through a dazzling mix of ensemble-driven physical theatre, spectacular aerial feats, atmospheric lighting and projection and an exhilarating score.

“I instantly knew that I wanted to turn this book into a piece of theatre,” says Sally. “It packs such an emotional punch. It’s a story that celebrates stories, but also gets under the skin of what we do as a society when it comes to talking about important stuff. And it’s also such a beautiful, fantastical magical story as well. It’s got all the elements I love.”

Cast of the A Monster Calls UK Tour in rehearsals. Photo credit Manuel Harlan.

Storytelling as a means of both revealing and disguising the truth is at the heart of A Monster Calls. Throughout the story, Conor is visited by a tree-like monster, who tells him tales that all connect in some way to his own. Through them, we begin to get a picture of the story that isn’t being told – the truth that Conor and his family are hiding from themselves and from each other.

Finding a way to make the monster work on stage was no easy task, and numerous techniques were tried before they hit on the solution: a huge metal rig, hung with heavy ropes which the cast use to conjure shifting shapes and structures, lending the whole show a kind of dreamlike fluidity.

“The rig is a really imposing presence,” says Associate Director Sam Wood. “There’s something really exciting about it – it’s like a playground. Everyone is on those ropes at some point, and they do more than just create a tree.”

Cast of A Monster Calls. Photo Manuel Harlan

As well as portraying their own individual characters, the ensemble collectively convey a sense of Conor’s inner world and the monster than haunts it, reflecting his emotions in their movements.

“Everything we do – even getting up from a chair to standing – has some reason behind it,” explains Ewan Wardrop, who plays Conor’s dad. “Our brains are full of information, and it’s exhausting. But it’s really enjoyable as well, trying to lose yourself in what everyone is doing and picking up on the group physicality. It’s a brilliant way of telling a story.”

A Monster Calls shows at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry from 3-7 March.
Tickets are available to book now at www.belgrade.co.uk.

Main Photo: Matthew Tennyson (Conor) in A Monster Calls. Photo by Manuel Harlan 

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