The stage production of A Monster Calls comes promised as a “dazzling insight into love, life and healing” as a young boy copes with the impending loss of his mother.
The cast know they will have to look after their own mental wellbeing as they embark on the tour, which kicks off at Chichester Festival Theatre from February 6-15.
Kaye Brown, who plays Grandma, knows the emotional demands of the piece are something the cast must be prepared for.
Thirteen-year-old Conor and his mum have managed just fine since his dad moved away. But now his mum is sick and 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, 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.
“The grandma is the blunt truth that nobody wants to face,” says Kaye. “Everyone is shirking around the issues of what is really going on. I am the one that is having to say that my daughter is not going to make it. I am playing like the devil’s advocate in trying to speak to the boy about it and in trying to speak to my daughter about it, but really everyone is trying to brush it under the carpet.
“I am the stroppy grandmother who is saying that you must face up to it. We are all quite prone to not wanting to face up to these situations; we are not very good at just sitting down and talking about them.
“The grandma in some ways is not the nicest of people. She is not the warmest of people, but her intentions are right, and her relationship with the young boy is interesting. In some ways the young man has got quite an ageist view of grandmas. He wants her to be all warm and cosy and making cocoa. But she runs her own business. She dyes her hair because she doesn’t want grey hair. And he is like ‘Why can’t you be like normal grandmothers!’”
Inevitably, it’s going to be emotional – something the cast discussed in rehearsals.
“But there are ways of coping with the grief. There are ways before you start the performance of warming yourself up and then afterwards there are ways of gently psychologically shutting the door on what you have been doing.
“Different actors will talk about the different processes of getting into the characters, but with this I think you have to be aware that you are living in the world of the play and that it is not your real world. You have to be aware of it on the stage and then you have got to be able to step back. I think we need to be very aware psychologically of that. We need to be able to ground ourselves in that way. We need to make sure that we are looking after our own mental health as well. It has got to be almost like taking off a coat at the end, like shedding a skin. You have got to be careful that you are not taking too much home with you at the end of the performance… and then that way you can make sure that you are ready for the next performance the next day, but I know that it won’t always be easy.”
The cast includes Greg Bernstein (Harry), Kaye Brown (Grandma), Raffaella Covino, Ammar Duffus (Conor), Keith Gilmore (Monster), Jade Hackett (Sully), Cora Kirk (Lily), Kel Matsena (Anton) and Maria Omakinwa (Mum).