Gruelling role as Olivier Award-winning A Monster Calls hits Chichester

Ammar Duffus imagines that a lot of it will come down to conditioning and looking after himself.

Friday, 31st January 2020, 12:00 pm
Updated Friday, 31st January 2020, 1:24 pm
Ammar Duffus (Conor) in rehearsals for the A Monster Calls UK Tour, Photo credit Manuel Harlan

He’s playing Conor in A Monster Calls (Chichester Festival Theatre, February 6-15 and the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, May 12-16), a story brought to life in the Olivier Award-winning production by director Sally Cookson.

It is going to be a pretty demanding role. His mother in the piece is seriously, seriously ill.

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...

“I think it helps that the show has been done before,” says Ammar, speaking from rehearsals. “A lot of the creative team know what to expect, and also the ensemble group of actors will shape it similarly to what has been done before, but of course it will be different too. We are all different people with different characters. But it is great. You can try things out in the rehearsal room. It is very much a collaborative process. It is really interesting doing theatre in this way. I haven’t done it like this before. Most of the people are on stage all the time, on the sides on chairs.”

And it is quite some journey they will all take us on.

“I think I am just going to have to be making sure that I get enough sleep, making sure that immediately it is over, I am not thinking about show…. just as you can’t be having any thoughts that are not about the show during the show. But then, once it is over, you have got to take ten minutes to yourself to get yourself back together. Also listening to music helps me unwind.

“When you have done a show, you have got the adrenaline rushing through your body for a couple of hours afterwards, and I think that will be the case with this show. I try to get back to wherever I am staying quickly and then shower and put on some music and then sleep!

“Conor is a very interesting character. He reminds me of myself when I was younger. He is quite confident. He is close to his mum. I am very close to my mum. His dad in the play lives in America. My dad lives in America as well. There are similarities there.

“But he is a wonderful well-rounded character, and it has been interesting tapping into that feeling of being a 13-year-old boy. Also interesting trying not to make him too grown-up. I am 25, but actually it is easier than I thought. Sally, the director, suggested that we bring in photos of when we were 13 just to see what we looked like, and my picture was my 13th birthday. A lot of people were saying that I hadn’t aged very much at all – which is a compliment! And it really brought back memories of that age, a lot of the happiness of being 13, the beginning of your teens, and you think it is going to be the most life-changing time in your life as you step into being a teenager.

“In the play, Conor is experiencing very adult things, but it is important not to age him up. So I keep reminding myself of my 13-year-old self.

“I remember starting high school, and I remember on the first day my dad tied my tie because I didn’t know how to, and my mum said to me ‘You represent me when you are at school.’ She said ‘If your shirt is untucked or if your tie is not straight, then people will think that that is how I sent you out!’ She said ‘You have got to make sure that you represent me in the best possible way…”