Monkey Bars

Monkey Bars
4 stars ****
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)

ON A FRINGE FULL of young adults compulsively celebrating their own “childlsh” behaviour – refusing responsibility, clinging to their cuddly toys, and drinking untl they vomit all over their friends – Chris Goode’s exquisite new show Monkey Bars come as a cool, sobering and quietly passionate reality check.

Based on conversations with young children recorded at a school in Kingston-upon-Thames, Monkey Bars uses the simple but devastatingly original technique of having adults play children as if they were serious people, to lead us ever deeper into the real lives of children in Britain today, full of happiness and interest in most cases, but also of a touching, gentle awareness of the pain, tension and anxiety of the adults in their lives, which also makes them anxious for themselves.

Co-produced by Goode’s own company with the Unicorn Theatre, this 80-minute show uses the simplest of theatrical means to tell its story. Naomi Dawson’s design consists of a set of beautiful, glowing luminous white bricks big enough to sit on – part nursery furniture, part smart adult design; and around them, the actors sit and chat, alone or in pairs, or in larger groups, but always aware of the one actor who – at any one time – in playing the listening adult, the man with the headphones and recording machine.

The sense of discipline with which the six-strong company avoid any hint of cliched child-acting is formidable. And the intensity of the process of listening that has shaped this show is both humbling and deeply moving, as Goode quietly dismantles our comforting myths about what “goes over children’s heads”, and reminds us that our stereotyped images of childhood tell us far more about ourselves, than about the real children who live among us, feeing our pain, and wondering – for their own sake and ours – whether we can cope.

Joyce McMillan
Until 26 August
p. 300

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