A box and a cast of eight. Some ropes and scattered chairs. The intertwining branches from Ness’s illustrations weaved outwards; growing from a page onto the white boxed stage.
A walking tree.
A standing ovation.
One of the most powerful adaptations from a Young Adults novel, ‘A Monster Calls’ provokes questions and fears rooted deep to the minds of the audience. The tree comes walking not just for 13 year old Conner O’Malley, but for everybody. Everybody who needs to hear the truth:
“When stories are released, who knows what havoc they can wreak.”
Stuck in a web of lies, the protagonist Conner cocoons himself in self-deceit. Gradually intensifying with the aid of the Yew tree, the play explores the importance of liberating truths. Conner is entangled with habitual equivocation; never quite ready to admit the truth. Never quite ready to accept the loss of his dying mother. “Believing is half the truth”, and Conner’s lies have limits…
The characters weaved together; binding their bodies with the ropes to form a tree whose rough branches forced callous eyes to open. Eyes which are watered by the smoky haze of illusion. Branches which cut through the rose- tinted shroud of lies which lay thickly as a blanket. The truth grew with strength, a visual spectacle. Formed from the pulsing muscles and swinging legs of the cast, making reality a heavy weight upon the stage.
‘A Monster Calls’ explores the danger of relying on idealism. Of dreaming in illusions to form perceptions. The consequences of shunning reality as a coping mechanism for pain. Through a short series of stories, Conner learns the importance of bracing present wounds. Evil queens, heroic princes and greedy apothercerists are never who they seem. So, when Conner has to tell his own story, and accept what he’s been fighting against since his mother’s cancer diagnosis, he must distinguish the truth in the blurriness of deceit. “The best stories are ones which contain the truth”, but when Conner has ran from the truth for so long, how can he possibly know what is real?
Forcing time to stop, legs create earthly dust with the futile effort to push against; pull away, turn, shove, kick what is real. Holding on by a rope, a branch bending towards the weight of the world- like an apple to gravity. We seek the relationships which make us feel as we want to feel… but the truth heals. The truth is a monster.
It is the tree which saves Conner from his constant self-deceit. Twisting reality to a moulded arch. It walks from the truth, letting Conner lean back on its harsh but curved branches for steady support; no longer relying on the branches of borrowed time within his mind. Branches as ropes to lift Conner from the choking smog of a masked disposition and false pretence into a clearer sky.
Photos taken from the Lowry website. Photo credit: Manuel Harlan. https://thelowry.com/whats-on/a-monster-calls/