Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review Roundup: Find Out What the Critics Thought of The Old Vic's A MONSTER CALLS


A Monster Calls

The Old Vic is currently hosting the stage adaptation of Patrick Ness' piercing novel A Monster Calls, directed by Sally Cookson.

Thirteen-year-old Conor and his mum have managed just fine since his dad moved to America. But now his mum's very sick and she's not getting any better. His grandmother won't stop interfering and the kids at school won't look him in the eye.

Then, one night, at seven minutes past midnight, Conor is woken by something at his window. A monster has come walking. It's come to tell Conor tales from when it walked before. And when it's finished, Conor must tell his own story and face his deepest fears.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Dominic Maxwell, The Times: Bring tissues, lots of tissues. And while you're at it - excuse me, had to stop typing for another little sob, there we go, better now - bring the kids, the parents, your friends and neighbours. This strange, soaring yet miraculously unsentimental adaptation of Patrick Ness's book needs seeing. It is heartbreaking, spectacular, harsh, happy. It leaves you, as my 13-year-old pointed out, "about as unbored as you could ever be in a theatre".

Fiona Mountford, The Evening Standard: Sally Cookson is a playful and inventive director known for her all-encompassing use of an ensemble of performers, but here her favoured methods sometimes look shaky. There's a lot of effort and detail, but for much of the time it's too much: too much movement and certainly too much music from the onstage band, as barely a line is spoken without emphatic underscoring. The production is markedly better when it's quieter and softer

Michael Billington, The Guardian: What really impressed me was the wit and elegance of Cookson's staging and Michael Vale's design. The visual concept is based on strands of rope that are twisted and tangled to form the gnarled branches of a yew tree, out of which Stuart Goodwin's monster appears. With his bare torso, necklet of berries and commanding presence, Goodwin evokes folkloristic memories of Herne the Hunter and the Green Man. Rope is also used to suggest everything from a wicked queen's crown to a car's steering wheel.

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph: Cookson can't disguise the book's tricky mix of hefty themes and slender-ish storyline, yet she draws you into the wonder and pathos of the boy's bewilderment and grief across two fleet, fluid, spellbinding hours. Live music (composer Benji Bower) provides a mercurial array of pulsating electronica, plangent piano and much else, while a metaphorically suggestive tangle of ropes, gathered into position by a physically symbiotic, multi-tasking company of 10, evoke looming trunk, swaying boughs and fierce psychological tugs-of-war.

Paul Taylor, The Independent: Sally Cookson's stage adaptation of Patrick Ness's prize-winning 2011 novel is a wondrous feat of group-devised communal story-telling. The isolation and vulnerability of the 13-year-old boy at its centre are piercingly heightened by the playful cohesiveness of the 12-strong ensemble; they create the bewildering world around him with great physical wit and cunning simplicity on Michael Vale's bare white design.

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut: Super-director Sally Cookson's stab at turning it into a stage play so soon after the film is a tad audacious in theory, but to her credit she mostly nails it. Devised with her company, 'A Monster Calls' takes a while to warm up, but ultimately locks into the searing emotional clarity of the book more closely than the film did.

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Related Articles

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

From This Author Review Roundups