A MONSTER CALLS | London, The Old Vic

Patrick Ness’ and Siobhan Dowd’s 2011 haunting bestseller about 13-year-old Conor (Matthew Tennyson) and his journey to come to terms with his mother’s cancer, adapted into a film in 2016, has now been adapted into a smash hit theatre piece by Bristol Old Vic. Following a succession of five-star reviews, we now have the privilege of experiencing this masterpiece in London too.

The play leaves plenty of space for dialogue, and the performances across the board are stunning. But what really categorises this production is the unpredictable, idiosyncratic grace of the ensemble movement and choreography (Dan Canham) to tell the story.

Rich, kaleidoscopic live music (Benji Bower) underscores almost the entire show. Arrhythmic, aggressive percussion marks Conor’s walk to school, while a burst of vocoder cluster-chords mark the Prince’s delicate stroke of the farm-girl’s cheek, and layered, echoing cellos swell as the monster lays Conor down to sleep.

Is it suitable for children? The flyer recommends ages 10 and up, but even just the opening nightmare sequence where Conor is gagged by the pulsating chorus, fighting against the terrifying screaming void of the soundscape, against giant flashing projections of blood spilled into water, is extremely frightening.

As well as the nightmare sequences, there are several explicitly violent scenes. Furthermore, the depiction of illness, both inside the hospital bed and around it, is so finely observed that it will be triggering for a number of people in the audience, of all ages.

After the standing ovation, it seemed like half the audience were openly weeping. This is theatre at its most devastating.

At The Old Vic until 25 August 2018. Day seats are available at the box office from £8.50.

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