London Theater Review: ‘A Monster Calls’

“A Monster Calls” offers a child’s-eye view of cancer. Patrick Ness’ children’s novel, the winner of the 2012 Carnegie Medal and adapted into a 2016 film that starred Felicity Jones, sits with a 13-year-old boy trying to make sense of the disease laying waste to his mother — a disease that rarely, if ever, makes sense. Visited nightly by a storytelling monster, he slowly comes to appreciate that life isn’t a fairytale; it follows no plot. It’s a story about complexity that’s staged, in Sally Cookson’s Old Vic production, with the utmost simplicity.

That is, in the end, its great strength: it allows a sentimental story to cut through with sincerity. For a long while, however, it merely looks slimline: a stock gallery of school bullies, sleepless nights and scary monsters that speak in deep, echoing booms. Childhood, at first, seems the stuff of cliché: all messy bedrooms and deskbound daydreams. Cancer too: a frail woman in a headscarf heaving into a bowl, drugs that don’t work, IV drips on wheels. Slowly, all of that gets shaded in. Cookson shows there’s more to everything than might meet the eye.

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