Review: The Making of a Monster

Welsh children’s laureate Connor Allen has created a provocative and humorous exploration into the question of race and identity

David Bonnick Jnr (left) and Connor Allen (right) engage in a sharply funny rap battle. Photo by Simon Ayre.

The Making of a Monster, 9-19 November, Wales Millennium Centre.

Following a distinctly immersive format, the first scene of The Making of a Monster is a transportation into a traumatic distortion of six-year-old Connor Allen’s mind. Ducks quack. Laughter echoes. Litter drifts sequentially in a pond. These sounds are repeated throughout the course of the show, rendering us trapped as the young poet, waiting in a park for a father to show up who never does.

Visually dynamic, educative and, at the foremost, raw, Connor’s debut play is an autobiographical depiction of his own experiences growing up mixed race in a single-parent household in Newport. With the aid of Connor’s lyrical narration, we are flash-forwarded from his liminal childhood dreamscape into the rough, graffitied walls of his council estate. There, the rapper recalls with humour his own experiences of racial abuse and falling in with the wrong crowd.

It is ultimately the concept of belonging that lies at the core of Connor’s story

The performance strikes a clever balance between the emotional and the comedic. Laughter bursts from the audience as Connor engages in a tongue-in-cheek rap battle between himself and his childhood bully (a brilliant solo given by David Bonnick Jnr.), only to be followed by a collective horror when Connor describes how the pressure from school led to a violent fight with his own mother. He later recounts his lowest moment as being when he is taken into custody, feeling as though he is a monster with no family to whom he can turn.

It is ultimately the concept of belonging that lies at the core of Connor’s story. At various points throughout the play he pauses to provide the audience with troubling facts about race – most synonyms for white are positive, while those for black are negative; children are taught to view Caucasian features as being intrinsically more beautiful than African ones. Tense music plays during several scenes, such as when Connor is getting a haircut, to evoke the extreme frustration that comes with feeling as though he is caught between two racial identities.

Oraine Johnson creates a tense atmosphere through brilliant drum performance. Photo by Simon Ayre.

Intimate, and at times gut-wrenching, The Making of Monster manages to provide a truly entertaining and thought-provoking analysis of the intersection of race and class in modern-day Wales. An answer to Connor’s pervasive question over identity is eventually found through his evolution of grime: by the end, you get to see him rapping triumphantly about his Jamaican-Welsh heritage against an endearing and bespectacled picture of himself in a graduation hat. (I did say it was visually dynamic.) An important and uplifting work for all audiences.