Extraordinary and exceptional - A Monster Calls in Chichester

A Monster Calls- Ammar Duffus and ensemble. Photo credit Manuel Harlan
A Monster Calls- Ammar Duffus and ensemble. Photo credit Manuel Harlan

REVIEW: A Monster Calls, Chichester Festival Theatre, until Saturday

Even the play's title is artistically deceptive.

For those old enough to remember Alastair Sim in JB Priestley's An Inspector Calls there is a suspicion this might be a more lurid re-interpretation.

Then for a younger generation brought up on the weirdly challenging children's works of David Walliams the suggestion lingers in the name that perhaps this belongs to something of his genre.

In reality, based on the novel by Patrick Ness this extraordinarily and rather wonderfully forensic examination of a teenager coming to emotional grips with his mother's terminal illness has shades of both.

For this is a powerfully disruptive psychological examination of one young man and the abrasive and often contradictory thoughts that battle for his attention while he seeks to retain his own visibility in a world where he is defined not by himself but his single mum's cancer treatment.

This is an exceptional interpretation of the boy Connor by Ammar Duffus as he battles the demons without - bullying at school - and the monster within.

That monster takes the form of the strong spirit of the life-giving yew tree played with roughish strength but ultimately sublime sensitivity by Keith Gilmore.

But as you wipe away the smudges of water beneath your eyes - and this is a tear-jerker of the first order - spare a thought for the production team that builds such beauty from hanging ropes which shape and meander into the living form of the tree.

Extraordinary and exceptional, mesmerising too. Far too good to be snuggled at the foot of the 2020 season and ultimately emotionally superior to any of the great works of Priestley himself.

Gary Shipton

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