Monkey Bars

Funny and surprising verbatim show offering insight into what children are really thinking.
North Wall Arts Centre, Tue 10 September - Wed 11 September 2013 & Chipping Norton Theatre, Thu 17 October 2013

September 10, 2013

Monkey Bars is a compact, well-designed show with a simple and appealing concept: children were asked their views on some of the big questions of life (What do you want to be when you grow up? How would you explain money to an alien? What's your favourite sweetie?) and their answers transposed to grown-up actors in grown-up scenarios. Six actors play a dozen children and their interviewer by turns. Settings range from a pub discussion, to a psychiatrist's couch, to a televised Presidential debate.

If I say the show is charming, you'll think "quaint" and if I say it's hilarious you'll think it must mock the juvenile interviewees. In fact it shows great respect for the children's words and suggests the interviewer treated them carefully while still challenging their assumptions. If anyone gets mocked it's probably us, as we recognise ourselves uncomfortably in the strident beliefs (which are sometimes clearly adults' opinions parroted by children, now repeated by adults). But charm and hilarity? It has both in spades and the audience were hanging on the actors' every word which says something when at least half the audience were GCSE drama students.

The stage set consisted of lit cubes perhaps 2ft across. These were constantly rearranged to form seating, a bar, a couple of podia, a couch. Thee was also a bike and some other props most notably a pair of earphones, worn to signify who was the adult interviewer in the grouping. That was a nice device, showing when a conversation had taken off and the children (all aged around 11, I'd say) started to question one another. One of the most surreal scenes is a job interview. "If you were the bubblegum creature... and you were in a hot tub... would you melt?" asks a young Alan Sugar.

I don't want to give away the best bits, as you have another chance to see this at the North Wall tonight (Wed 11th Sept) but a few of our favourites were the two very young codgers discussing the parlous state of the country's youth (especially girls), and the Muslim lads on "the T word" (it's not what you think), or two boys boasting about their wealth, or perhaps the three girls on how hard it is to be a celebrity.

Unusually we decided to forego the cast Q&A afterwards. We felt it could only diminish the magic of the show. Contrary to the opinions of the children themselves the country is clearly fine when there's theatre like this around. We gleefully did impressions of the conversations all the way home.

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