A Monster Calls at Chichester Festival Theatre REVIEW: 'As a fable for coping with loss, this is a show children should see'

As many grateful parents can tell you, the best children’s entertainment works for adults too

Thursday, 13th February 2020, 8:28 am
Updated Thursday, 13th February 2020, 8:28 am
A Monster Calls is currently on at Chichester Festival Theatre. Picture by Manuel Harlan
A Monster Calls is currently on at Chichester Festival Theatre. Picture by Manuel Harlan

A Monster Calls is a textbook example.Teenager Conor knows his mother is really sick – but he is harbouring a secret that haunts him every night.His trauma summons a monster; the yew tree near their house comes alive and tells him a series of fables while he faces his own demons.

At first, I struggled to get on the show’s frequency, and feared the repetitive structure would have me checking my watch for the interval.

Yet, the building intrigue surrounding Conor’s secret got me hooked.

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The story is rooted in the fairytale tradition, but its presentation is completely contemporary: a blank white box brought to life by projections, bodies, chairs moved in various configurations and most impressively, hanging ropes woven in myriad ways as the yew’s branches.

This is the kind of staging A-level drama students could only dream of: a kind of spectacle that relies on your imagination.

And kudos to Keith Gilmore, the man behind the beast, whose rippling torso explained why he could swing on the ropes like a bald, Scottish Tarzan.

As a fable for coping with loss, and all the contradictions and complexities associated with it, this is a show children should see – and was carried by Ammar Duffus' quietly angry Conor.

But the wisdom and weight behind the message will also resonate across the generations, which was audible by the show's emotional climax.

There was plenty of sniffling to be heard in the auditorium, and I welled up when the pieces of the puzzle finally fitted together.

Until February 15.