Originally written for TheatreBristolWriters.net
‘Monkey Bars’ is the insightful, funny and often unexpected result of what happened when Chris Goode asked 70 children to talk about their lives. A verbatim piece spoken by adults ‘Monkey Bars’ offers a touching glimpse into young hearts and minds, and asks, how seriously do we listen to the words of children?
Cubes of white light create the stage and the scenarios we visit are familiar ones – a wine bar, a job interview, a political debate. The conversation touches on many a grown up theme – economics, religion, nationalism, identity and the future of how to make the world a better place is debated. It’s not all existential musings though and equally delightful are the joys of a jelly being serenaded and a job interview where the candidate is tested vigorously on their knowledge of sweets.
The work provides a powerful comment on time with the children often eagerly contemplating their future lives as ‘grown ups’. In contrast, the performers in business suits remind us how easy it is to forget the important art of being childlike as adults. It’s the simplicity of the children’s reasoning and more so their honesty that leave us with a sense of both the immediacy and fragility of childhood that is so fleeting.
The work doesn’t shy away from the darker side of the children’s truth. The original interviews (conducted by Karl James) were carried out in various socioeconomic groups in London and as well as revealing the reality of living in a multicultural society also demonstrate the role that the media and family can have in shaping our views and feelings about the world. Perhaps most poignantly is also how the children choose to cope and deal with them.
Whilst the challenge of adult life has yet to be encountered, the children are often quick to identify the cause and solution of potential problems:
Karl: Do you ever get a chance to talk to each other? When do you get to talk?
Hassan: No but we never get the chance. That’s the thing. I never get to know Woody and Woody never gets to know me. And like.. And I want you to hear this loud, world! That is why we are not friends, because we never get a chance to know people. And I think.. And if you.. And if you can hear this, President, I want you to change the school time so that we can have play time even more so we can know people even more. OK?
‘Monkey Bars’ is a production where despite their absence, the children remain at the heart of the piece. It provides a platform for them to voice their views consistently revealing the insight and wisdom that children have. It leaves the audience to ask the question: how often as adults, do we give children an opportunity to really take the stage and to value them in this way?