Take a Yew Tree, a dying mother, a troubled, bullied child and the stuff of nightmares and settle down for an evening at the theatre. Maybe not the setting for a moving, emotional and enjoyable dramatic experience; however, in the gifted and experienced hands of Director Paul T Davies and the incredibly talented cast of the Headgate Young Company, this production of ‘A Monster Calls’ is not to be missed.

The play is adapted from the acclaimed young adult book by Patrick Ness and was devised by Sarah Cookson. It was first performed at the Bristol Old Vic in 2022. It’s a very good play with a strong narrative, but it still needs to be performed with feeling and panache. The HYC does it proud. The primary storyline concerns Conor, whose mother is very ill, who is bullied at school, who has a difficult relationship with his Grandma and divorced, USA-based Dad, being visited by a monster who regales him with four tales that might help him sort out the problems in his life.

Conor is the mainstay of the piece, and he is played with the perfect amount of vulnerability, resilience and earnestness by 14-year-old Alex Derrick. It’s a performance of depth and maturity which enables the other actors to gravitate around him. The Mum, a touching portrayal by Beth Pearson, demonstrates the love for her son while attempting to shield him from the truth. Both Finlay Fuller as Grandma and Seamus Maloney as Dad give their parts layers of subtlety and insight that add to the complexity of Conor’s troubled existence.

The school scenes are accurately observed thanks to creditable performances by Maddy Smith as Miss Godfrey and Jihane Benchama as Miss Matel, providing authority mixed with kindness and a willingness to do the right thing as well as keep order. Conor’s schoolmates give him a hard time, especially Harry, Sully and Antonia, played with relish by Reuben Franklin, Samuel Lagden and Juliette Barry. As the bullies, they could be even nastier, but this may come as they go further into the run. I saw it on opening night, but, to be honest, given the quality of the production, you wouldn’t have known it. There were no first night nerves or slip ups here. Davida Adekanle, as Conor’s one true friend at school, Lily, gives feeling and depth to a part that could otherwise be superficial.

Shola Osiyemi’s performance as The Monster is extraordinary. His timing, movement, diction, and presence are outstanding. His scenes with Conor and his storytelling are a joy. This is one talented actor who is a real find for our local drama scene.

Paul T Davies and his Assistant Director, Nate Drury, have coaxed a tremendous production out of this gifted and talented young company. It is a triumph, with the set, design, costuming, and movement all on point. Praise is due to the whole cast and crew for putting it together.

It runs until 7 July, with matinees at the weekend. Book your tickets now, as you won’t want to miss this theatrical treat.