A Monster Calls

On the 11th February 2020, I saw A Monster Calls in the Chichester Festival Theatre. The set was perfect; basic and simple but versatile and everything had its purpose, the centre piece was the tree, which was a long thick rope that easily moved around the stage. The ensemble brought the tree to life by using it to swing on and transition through the story. The only real props were the mum’s hospital bed and the drip she needs for medicine. Visually this was super powerful in allowing the audience to understand that everything else in the play wasn’t real and didn't matter, Conor’s grief and the reality that his mum will die is what has caused this fantasy world to come alive. The ensemble has a vital role in the play. They weave in and out of characters for the story and imaginatively help Conor get dressed in the morning, they throw his shoes on the stage, give him a bowl and spoon. They move around the stage instead of using a complicated set to create a home environment. They become Conor and mimic him which heightens and exaggerates Conor’s feelings of grief.

One moment that stood out for me was when Conor destroyed his Grandmas house. The intense music from the previous scene contrasted with the silent room. Conor smashing chairs created a lasting echo that stunned the audience. The white glow on the white walls and floor aloud Conor’s performance to appear raw, and innocent, given the circumstances Conor is supposed to act like this. In another scene the monster stands crouched on the back of a chair which Conor sits on representing that the monster has full control over Conor. Conor punches and shoves, facing the audience and Harry is to the side of the stage, reacting to the punches being thrown at him, meanwhile on the back wall the prominent projection of the clock grows bigger showing the importance of this stage of grief. I never expected to see this type of scene be performed like this, but it was very effective. Highlighting the fact that Conor’s anger is part of his journey grieving for his mother.

From this arts event I learned the importance of an ensemble. For any story they bring it to life, whether that’s by extending their legs to portray roots of the yew tree and move to bring the tree to life. When the monster says “stories chase” they move closer to him, “and bite” closer again, “and hunt” move closer once more, then they turn back to the ropes to show they are unified. This shows the magic of the yew tree because they become it. Or whether it's by helping Conor get ready for the morning: they each have a designed role and they give Conor milk for his cereal, or his school uniform to put on, they walk around him and tease him which reflects the youth-like playfulness of a thirteen-year-old boy, the audience recognise them as a part of Conor.

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