Writer: Chris Goode
Director: Chris Goode
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
“What is up with our generation?” asks a character in Chris Goode’s innovative play Monkey Bars. You may ordinarily expect the question to come from a disaffected adult but Monkey Bars is no ordinary play. Instead the query is that of a schoolboy and this is just one of many questions considered in Goode’s script, which utilizes verbatim transcripts of conversations between interviewer Karl James and forty 8-10 year old children living in and around London.
The versatile cast of six do not imitate the children; Goode transplants the conversations onto adult situations with entertaining results. Few plays can cover such a diverse range of topics and whether they are discussing their religious differences or the nature of celebrity, the perspectives of the children are refreshing, charming and often very funny. In a collection of short scenes, a conversation about “favourite sweeties” becomes a tough job interview, a date in a wine bar descends into boasts about who is allowed to stay up the latest and a debate between politicians features an in-depth discussion on superpowers.
The piece is more than a collection of whimsical set pieces however and there are some deeply affecting moments where the characters poignantly discuss situations or memories with the complete honesty that only children can have. It is often shocking to hear just how exposed these children have already been to larger societal issues such as crime and poverty and how their opinions and attitudes are heavily influenced by their families, school friends or the media.
The cast of Philip Bosworth, Angela Clerkin, Christian Roe, Gwyneth Strong, Cathy Tyson and Gordon Warnecke are all excellent and they cope admirably with the intricacies of performing verbatim speech.
The minimal but effective set by Naomi Dawson consists of luminous white cubes that can be moved or stacked to suit each scene. By keeping things simple Dawson ensures that the focus is on the unpredictable dialogue, however with so few visual cues it was difficult to discern the setting of one or two scenes. The lighting design by Colin Grenfell adds atmosphere and Goode’s direction makes full use of the space and ensures seamless transitions between scenes.
With a running time of 75 minutes, the time simply flies by. Nobody should feel shortchanged however as the fast paced nature of the show ensures that there is ample content and numerous thought-provoking themes are raised to ensure that it will linger much longer in the memory.
Monkey Bars is an inventive and highly original play allowing children to have to their say on issues about which adults often think they know best. On this evidence, perhaps the adults should listen to the children more often.