Preview: Monkey Bars

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Adults are smarter, funnier, quicker and louder than kids — so say all of us. It is a sad, and often neglected fact of life that children go unheard. With Monkey Bars, Chris Goode’s verbatim script provides a platform for those voices that are so tirelessly drowned out by the self-important discourse of the working adult, voices that are bright, perceptive and refuse to be silenced. It arrives at the BT Studio on Tuesday of Sixth Week.

In rehearsals, director Siwan Clark conducts the play’s 30-odd inconsecutive scenes, in which adult characters recount the true tales of hundreds of young children interviewed by Goode, with as much energy as if it were her own material.  

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The play, Clark urges, is precisely suited to a student audience; performed for those still battling that infamous ‘in-between stage’, the voice of the child turned adult resonates in new and exciting ways. “We still remember what it’s like to be a child or teenager,” says Clark. “We still remember what it’s like not to be listened to.”

Of course, the director’s ambition stretches further than a simple appeal to our empathic adolescence, arguing that if we, at this age, are more likely to foster ‘anti-children’ sentiments, then the performance has scope for dislodging such prejudices while they are forming. 

Perhaps clouded by visions of a revived Freaky Friday scenario, my fears that this particular revision of the youth/adulthood dichotomy was just a little contrived, or worse a tad preachy, were swiftly abandoned. This is a script with real topical significance. Not only does it discuss issues such as the conflict in Syria or the London Riots, but at the heart of the play is a discussion on the sexual abuse scandal in Wales a few years back and the questionable ways in which the children’s complaints were dealt with.

Monkey Bars strikes a strident contemporary chord, as Clark articulates a national awareness of the fact that now, more than ever, “denying someone a voice is not without its consequences.”

Speaking of her personal attachment to the script, it quickly becomes obvious that Clark’s motivations as director are truly admirable ones. Jarred by the reality that anyone can openly profess, “Me? I hate kids!” and get away with it, for Clark the piece flags this kind of social acceptance of everyday child prejudice, and questions it. “Children have thoughts like the rest of us, they get lonely like the rest of us, and they have affections, memories, ambitions like anybody else.”

“It’s counter-intuitive, yes,” admits cast-member Benjamin Goldstein when asked about the challenges of a role in which both adult and juvenile dimensions are so unnaturally fused, “but it’s not impossible.”

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The rehearsal, like a flashback to those Stagecoach glory days, begins with a suitably playful and energised round of “Smack,” the “Monkey Bar” version of the notorious warm-up exercise, “Splat.” The cast then grapple with the task of exposing and removing those quirks and mannerisms that make us so characteristically adult by impersonating one another, with the mantra, “always accurate; never cruel”. Clearly, these are not just actors playing children. These are adult mouthpieces to the earnest, uninhibited speech of those who so often go ignored.

“People had to leave because they were peeing with laughter,” Rosalind Brody tells of her first experience of the play at the 2012 Fringe. As this would suggest, Monkey Bars is at once a pithy, thought-provoking and hilarious script to which Clark’s cast will no doubt do justice. Urging you to draw your own conclusions, this is a verbatim play that aptly and truthfully speaks for itself. 

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