Monkey Bars (5 stars)

This article is from 2012

Monkey Bars

Richard Davenport

Kids say the profoundest things

‘Sometimes adults don’t really listen to children,’ suggests the actor playing dialogue artist Karl James at the start of Chris Goode’s masterful new verbatim play. And that’s exactly what this astonishing piece seems to be telling us – that there’s so much we can learn from opening our ears to what kids are saying. About ourselves as adults, and how we treat children and each other; about big issues like war and poverty; and about Lily Allen and what happens to bubblegum creatures in hot tubs.

It’s the sheer range of subject matter, tone and insight that makes Monkey Bars so remarkable. Based on conversations with children aged eight-to-eleven in the London area, carried out by Karl James (who appears throughout the work), the twist is that the kids’ lines are delivered by adult actors, faithfully and with no hint of condescension. There’s humour, of course, in the simple incongruity of childish observations coming from straight-faced grown-ups, but that’s just the start of it. Goode (who directs as well as compiling and editing the text) also creates adult situations for some of the conversations, to often horribly telling effect. An exchange about monsters takes place in a hilariously surreal job interview; two boys worrying about rising crime levels find themselves in a political debate. In a breathtakingly elegant yet ruthlessly effective way, Goode holds up a mirror to our own adult morals and social conventions. Sometimes, though, it’s the children’s raw words, delivered unadorned, that are enough – pride at being the only girl to play rugby, for instance, or a haiku-like memory of falling off a bike.

The performances from the six-strong cast are pitch-perfect: the actors clearly relish the rich dialogue but never stray into sentimentality. And Naomi Dawson’s effective stage design makes the most of simple glowing cubes and a single microphone. This is a major achievement from regular Fringe visitor Goode, by turns heartbreaking and hilarious, and often overwhelming. After it, you’ll never hear children in the same way again.

Traverse Theatre, 228 1404, until 26 Aug, times vary, £17–£19 (£12–£14).

Monkey Bars

Verbatim drama putting the words of children into adult mouths.

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