I’m not a great fan of kids, I must admit – I much prefer dogs (I’ve been told this isn’t a normal human response.) So, I wasn’t quite sure how to approach a preview of Monkey Bars, a production of Chris Goode’s award-winning work which took a series of interviews with children aged between 7 and 10, and gave the lines to adults.
“You couldn’t say “I hate [them]” about any other group,” but with children it’s deemed acceptable, director Siwan Clark remarks. I’m watching a rehearsal of a scene set at an ‘urban pub’, with the cast members at various stages of alcoholism. Connie Treves, Rosalind Brody, Charlotte Fraser, and Calam Lynch are sat together discussing “Where does the money come from?” and the conversation appears thoroughly adult until one of the actors interjects that when you ‘park in the Queen’s parking space, the money goes to the Queen.’ Freddie Popplewell and Ben Goldstein – the latter clad in the business monochrome which is the emotionless, colourless costume for the production – are somewhere between yuppies and old drunkards. There’s something a bit American Psycho in their arrogance, showing off how much cash they have – except for the fact that Goldstein is proud that his dad gave him £20, whilst Popplewell claims to have a ‘mountain’ of cash at home. A later scene sees two of the actors discussing ‘our generation’ in terms which would warm the cockles of Paul Dacre’s heart as they lambast girls for “act[ing] like they’re from Essex” (a sorry fate indeed), going around “literally mugging people.”
There’s no stolid didacticism, Clark stresses, but instead a focus upon the narrative. Citing her own mother’s experience as a paediatrician working with children with Asperger’s and other conditions as well in child protection, she says “even in progressive social circles, children are like nothing.” A quote from one of the children from a Welsh report into the handling of child abuse is particularly striking – “We are only school-children”: the idea that their age meant speaking out against the adults who abused them was pointless. This is brought out in a scene where a recurring character, Grace, is asked what makes her angry. Her response is simple: when people don’t listen to her. The counsellor continues to question her, asking how that makes her feel, and the answer is “I’m the only one in that world”.
Monkey Bars never slides into the saccharine because of how candid the responses are. The actors brilliantly place the voices of children in typically adult scenarios, and the effect is sometimes very comic, often unnervingly normal. It’s easy for us to put off kids’ concerns, says Clark – “they just want more cake or something”. After watching even such a short preview of Monkey Bars, though, I can’t help but feel my own take on children is changing.
Monkey Bars is running at the Burton Taylor Studio from the 18th – 22nd November
PHOTO/Late Gate Student Productions