Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Monkey Bars

Chris Goode
Chris Goode & Company and Unicorn Theatre
Unicorn Theatre

Monkey Bars Credit: Richard Davenport

“What does it feel like to be grown-up?” asks one of the children whose comments and questions make up this 75-minute piece based on Karl James’s interviews 7- to 11-year-olds, but the show itself is one that gives the adult audiences at which it is aimed a glimpse into the minds of children.

Writer / director Chris Goode’s gimmick in presenting his edited selection from those recordings is to have their comments spoken by grown-ups; not grown-ups playing children but adults in suits in adult situations—in a bar, at the office—and he marks it as performance by bringing the cast on and then getting them to change into the business outfits hanging on a costume rail.

This helps to take away the aura of sentiment and condescension that too often colours the way adults view children’s ideas, though there, perhaps inevitably, remains a certain element of “kids say the funniest things”. Perhaps they seem even funnier when spoken verbatim by straight-faced grown-ups, but it also adds resonance to how direct and uncomplicatedly honest they are.

Beyond a framing to establish the interview sourcing, there is no ordinary dramatic structure and certainly no narrative. This is patterned more like a piece of music exploring certain themes, aspirations, likes and dislikes, dreams and fears. These are punctuated by changing the stage picture: moving the performers around and rearranging the white boxes that become furniture or setting, sometimes interwoven with music.

It makes a pleasing pattern both visually and aurally and is beautifully performed by its cast: Philip Bosworth, Angela Clerkin, Jacquette May, Christian Roe, Gwyneth Strong and Gordon Warnecke, but, as they begin to arrange the white building blocks yet one more time, the resort to rearrangement tends to point up the lack of dramatic content.

It is heartening to hear a child speak out against war, depressing to here an infant aspire to be a “celebrity”, amusing that an adult ambition is to have a beard, enlightening to hear Moslem children voice views on non-believers but though made of of children's verbatim comments it does not really given them a voice. It will perhaps encourage audiences to listen more to what their children say and it certainly made me wonder just how much what we heard was their own fresh thought, how ideas and attitudes are passed on and what chance there is of preserving young idealism when faced with our unfair, unequal, greedy world.

Monkey Bars returns for a second short run at the Unicorn 9 - 26 January 2013.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton