A Monster Calls | Rehearsal Diary Weeks 1-2

23 Apr 2018

With rehearsals heating up in London, A Monster Calls Associate Director Miranda Cromwell shares all the goings on from weeks 1 & 2 as we eagerly await the show's arrival this May!

A Monster Calls: Costume reference wall, the company on Day 1 of rehearsals and the original text by Patrick Ness

We started the first day with a full meet and greet of all of the many people making the show happen. Matthew Warchus kicked off the proceedings, welcoming everyone and introducing the Old Vic and Bristol Old Vic collaboration.

Sally Cookson spoke of the importance of this partnership, saying that, "in 1946 the Theatre Royal was threatened with closure, so the present company of the Bristol Old Vic was created as an offshoot to the London Old Vic".

Patrick Ness, the writer of the novel, explained that he had inherited the original idea of the book from Siobhan Dowd, who was planning to write this story before she passed away.

Michael Vale talked through his ideas for the design. Katie Sykes also talked about ideas for the costumes. The design is very bold and exciting with lots of space to encourage the audience’s imagination.

Sally spoke on how integral the ensemble will be in telling this story. Much of the sound, music and physical action will be devised by the company. We know there will be multiple character changes and ensemble storytelling throughout.

Sally asked the company and creative team to talk about our first responses to reading the book. There were many people who described a visceral reaction to the story. We realise that many people have personal experience of the events described in the book.

In the first few days we were exploring the language of the storytelling. We will be using music, movement, projection, dialogue and sound design to tell this story. The ensemble are the storytellers and, throughout, the actors will multi-role. They will help to create the monster and interpret Conor’s memories, thoughts and nightmares, as well as playing all the other characters in the play.

We are using a story structure that Sally and Adam Peck have been working on. They developed this through research and development rehearsals with actors. It is a distilled version of those discoveries, with text taken from the book and ideas for ensemble movement and music within it.

Sally is clear to reiterate that this is not a script and at the start of the second week we start to play around with the scenes, improvising around the text. Sally asks the characters to speak their thoughts aloud before they say the text. This helps to flesh out the characters intentions and what the subtext is.

We create music and sound with Benji Bower starting with an exploration of the nightmare in an abstracted way using fragments of text and sound. We even play with learning text spoken backwards.

Dan Canham works with the ensemble to build dynamic movement alongside the sound world of the nightmare. This continues to develop over the next two weeks discovering ways to move quickly between locations, characters and intentions.

We work through sections of the play, exploring what it’s like for Conor at home with his mother, his school, his friendship with Lilly and the relationship with his Dad and Grandma.

Towards the end of the second week we start tackling the big technical questions, to work out what we need from the set, lights and sound. We interrogate relationships between the characters. Sally sets up improvisations that fill in memories. We use research and discussion to flesh out the timeline of the Mother’s illness.

By the end of the second week we are through the first third of the play, creating a rough sketch and stitching the scenes together. It is really exciting to see the world of the play taking shape!

Miranda Cromwell (Associate Director)