“Stories are wild creatures” – A Monster Calls comes to the Belgrade Theatre

This spring, Midlands audiences will have the chance to experience Sally Cookson’s Olivier Award-winning adaptation of A Monster Calls when it heads out on its first UK tour, showing at the Belgrade Theatre from 3-7 March.

Described as offering “a dazzling insight into love, life and healing”, the show is based on the bestselling YA novel by Patrick Ness, the only book ever to have won both the Carnegie and Greenway Medals, widely recognised as two of the most prestigious awards for children’s literature.

It tells the story of thirteen-year-old Conor O’Malley, and his mum. Together, they’ve managed just fine since Conor’s dad moved away. Except now his mum is sick, and not getting any better, and the kids at school won’t look him in the eye. To make matters worse, he’s being visited by a monster in his nightmares – one that seems determined to make him face his deepest fears.

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

Unusually, the idea for the novel came from another writer, Siobhan Dowd, who began the story after her own cancer diagnosis. Sadly, she died before she could finish it herself, but her family and her editor were keen that the idea should live on after her.

Initially resistant to taking on the project, Ness changed his mind after the central image of the book – the moment when Conor emerges from a dream to discover that he’s smashed up his grandmother’s living room – came to him fully formed.

Ammar Duffus (Conor) and Keith Gilmore (Monster) in A Monster Calls UK Tour. Photo credit Manuel Harlan.

“It had everything this story needs at its heart: the anger, the frustration, the transgression,” he explains. “I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do this if I can do exactly what she would have done, which is let the story grow wild, and see where it goes…’ Because that’s what her books were like, so smart and mischievous and unexpected.”

It’s a stand-out scene on stage as well – a moment of shocking stillness following a dramatic dream sequence, performed by an ensemble cast. For Sally Cookson, it was the “emotional punch” of the story that made her want to bring it to the stage.

Ammar Duffus (Conor) and the ensemble of A Monster Calls UK Tour. Photo credit Manuel Harlan.

At its heart, this is a story about coming to terms with the difficult and sometimes brutal truths we hide from ourselves and from the people we love most, the “monster” of the title helping Conor to understand and accept his feelings. In a theatre, sharing in these emotions becomes a powerful collective experience.

“I think it was cathartic for the audience watching this story all together,” says director Sally Cookson. “[During the original run], we realised that the audience didn’t want to leave the auditorium straight afterwards, and so we kept the house open.

“We’ll do that on tour as well, so people can just collect their thoughts or discuss it with the people they’ve come with, or people they don’t know. That happened every night of the run – and it was a very special thing.”

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