Monkey Bars

Chris Goode Company and Unicorn Theatre
Playhouse Studio
1st - 4th October 2013

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

Seen And Definitively Heard

First performed at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre in the 2012 Fringe Festival the play is now on a national tour with nearly the same cast. The only change is that Liverpudlian Cathy Tyson steps into the six strong cast, which is headed by Director Chris Goode. Philip Bosworth, Angela Clerkin, Chris Roe, Gwyneth Strong and Gordon Warnecke complete the cast. Nothing would have been possible though without the painstaking efforts of Dialogue Artist, Karl James.

These adult bodies become the vehicle for delivering the recorded conversations of a wide ranging cross-section of 8 - 10 year-old London school children. Over 11 hours of conversations were reduced down to the 75 minute one act series of situations re-enacted out in the Playhouse Studio.

It sounds easy but this is a complicated project, with several stages of effort required for a successful outcome. It starts with the Dialogue Artist gaining an empathic and reassuring relationship with the children involved. Once they enter freely and without pressure into telling their stories then the recorded conversations can be converted verbatim into the script.

Essential to this process is listening and it's harder than it seems. As for the cast, the audience has to deal with the anomaly of hearing words and seeing actions performed out of their original contexts. At first there is a disconnection, because adult brains have left that early reasoning developmental stage behind.

Kids are unsure about growing up, of entering a world that starts to be threatening to them as they move up to secondary school and beyond. They can see and comprehend what is going on in the world about them via the media, family tensions, perceived stardom, wealth and poverty and can be philosophical about it all while not wanting to be left alone or singing to a jelly.

Hair-raising tales of hanging off a cable car by one arm, seeing a man run over by a car, and severe head wounds after crashing a bike 'just as well it was Halloween'. Discussions of fears, dreams, emotional turmoil and big issues like war, religion, riots and politics are transposed to grown up places like bars, canteens, interviews, parks and toilet talk.

In the end what is being attempted is very profound. Retold with an innocence, humour and candour that adults have learned to hide behind the veneer of role playing in their own worlds, the truths told in the play challenge our own perceptions.

One child wonders what is it like to be an adult, another muses that it would be better to hang on for a bit longer where he is, and a third suggests that the world would be a better place if children had more time off school to play and make friends; wonderful.

'What's it like when people don't listen to you?' Most kids lives revolve around this contention on a daily basis. Monkey Bars is an attempt to redress the imbalance. It does not need many props or especial stage management to carry it off, but in it's halting 'um', 'er' and 'like' language of not really being sure, speaks for itself. This is groundbreaking stuff, so catch it if you can.

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