What happens when childrens’ words come out of adult mouths?
Monkey Bars is a lovely concept, that if allowed to fully spread its wings could have been one of the most haunting, unsettling, or amusing plays you’ve ever seen, dependent on the line taken by the creator.
As it was, from the 30 eight-to-ten-year-olds interviewed by writer Chris Goode to make Monkey Bars, whose words were spoken through adult actors, we had a smattering of each of those elements.
Funny: childrens’ turn of phrase and views plainly put. “We want a nice place of earth”, “noisy and noisy”, “legs crampling” were some of the delights, not forgetting the surprisingly sophisticated words that can suddenly spring from an eight year old’s mouth.
Clever: slotted into the the adult scenarios, this dialogue makes fun of what we enact every day. A job interview saw the poor candidate wince as she realised she’d said the wrong thing, even if it was about liking eggy shaped sweets. Competing politicians argued how they’d best run the world: “with super powers”, obviously.
What would have made this fascinating would be to explore some of the questions just gently touched upon. At what point does the confidence of wanting to be anything in the world – a pop star, a teacher, an astronaut – become arrogance in the adult world? Actor Christian Rowe got close to this, the standout performer of the show, never pretending his child’s words were an excuse to lapse into childishness (which others sometimes did). His very adult self-assurance, put to child’s words of owning mountains of money, made us think on this conundrum.
Then, of course, there’s plenty to muse on about the passing of innocence provided by the children’s clear-sighted view of the world and its troubles. This wasn’t capitalised on fully, but eloquently expressed when a “child” drunkenly bellowed into a microphone asking the PM to “give people more free time, so we can make better friends.”
Plenty of material, if not quite strung together coherently enough to make it a unified, compelling whole. But there is more than enough to raise a smile and a giggle in this joyful, short play.