An Appreciation: MONKEY BARS

What we become as adults often has its roots in who we were as children. For MONKEY BARS, award-winning writer Chris Goode interviewed seventy young children on a variety of topics. He then took those interviews and carefully crafted a script which presents their words – but as spoken (for this production) by performers from the Southwark Playhouse Elders Group.

Adults playing children has been seen before in theatre, but what makes this special and interesting is that the children’s words are spoken by adults portraying adults in an adult’s world; in a bar, at an interview, on the psychiatrist’s couch, even on the Great British Bake Off. The tensions thus created between words, actions and situations can often be both entertaining, intriguing and illuminating.

As these mature performers speak the children’s uncluttered, playful and uninhibited dialogues, adopting both the vocabulary and the speech patterns of their young voices, in retaining their natural accents they have added yet another layer of tension which intrigues still further.

These young alternative viewpoints are sometimes startling. Children describe adults as loud and angry, and themselves as quiet. Anger comes up several times; never more movingly than the child who bounces a tennis ball against the wall in their room to try to dispel anger. “Does it work?”, asks an offstage voice. The longest pause, followed by a quiet “sometimes..”. The engagement in the audience was palpable.

Another character says “When you’re a child you don’t do too much thinking because you’re living”. Sometimes clarity and truth spoken so casually just turns around and slaps you in the face. Here, of course, with the added poignancy of being spoken by someone in their advancing years. It’s a useful reminder for us all to make every day count, whatever our age.

MONKEY BARS succeeds in bringing moments of insight into differences and similarities across the decades. Just as importantly, with this production by the Elders Company, it is another example of theatre’s increasing inclusivity – reaching out to welcome and include those who may not otherwise have had the confidence to engage and create. Southwark Playhouse has just reason to be proud of the success of their community engagements. The entire company, who had obviously worked hard, threw themselves into the production with gusto. The careful direction of Toby Clarke helped bring out both the loud and soft moments of the material and kept the pacing balanced both for the funnier sections, and the more intense passages.

As Lyn Gardner was saying so well in The Stage newspaper just last week, the arts show their relevance when they embrace diversity and ever-greater inclusivity; this project is a significant contribution to show older performers that not only do they matter, but also that they can collaborate to create work of a standard that both deserves -and rewards- an audience.

MONKEY BARS played on Monday 16th December at Southwark Playhouse


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