by Chris Goode from dialogues originated by Karl James.
Unicorn Theatre 147 Tooley Street SE1 2HZ To 26 January 2013.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3.30pm.
Captioned 22 Jan.
Runs 1hr 15min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7645 0560.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 January.
The child as father of the man; the girl of the woman.
Verbatim theatre, actors repeating words originally spoken by non-actors, usually has a specious quality. The more hesitations, mid-sentence changes of direction and other aspects of the original speakers intrude, the more authenticity seems false.
Generally, only a minority of meaning is conveyed by actual words. And other aspects of speech – the appearance and vocal quality of the speaker, their gestures, glances and movements – are either unknown to the actor or impossible to match into a seamless unity. Apart from the Tribunal Plays, developed at Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre, where the formal settings ironed out many of the uncertainties, verbatim theatre can have force but rarely the conviction of reality it suggests.
So Chris Goode’s open artifice in Monkey Bars is a welcome newcomer. Like Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills it mixes adult and child. But while Potter had adults acting children, Goode has adults playing adults, in adult social situations, quite sophisticated in behaviour and conversational manner, but using the words of children, collected by Karl James.
Goode explains it all neatly in the opening moments (after a strangely comic prologue exemplifying the idea as an adult sits quietly improvising a childlike song to a green jelly), recreating the way the project was explained to the participants. From then till the end just over an hour later, when it’s explained that the red light means what’s been said has been recorded, the stage, the words and the world they create, belong to the young people.
There’s often a naivety to the speech, to the vocabulary and sentence construction, but also an honesty that’s not always seeking to create a personal impression. One example: adult actors, costume and wine-bar music offset the original speaker’s “The thing that makes me sad is when I have like nightmares”. With adults, “The thing that” would probably become “What”, the “sad” something stronger, and possibly spoken with defensive tone, with the “like” being omitted or modified.
Staged around moveable cubes, which create specific spaces yet retain an abstraction, Monkey Bars is a surprise jolt to adult assumptions, up to the final, table-turning and all-encompassing question.
Cast: Philip Bosworth, Angela Clerkin, Jacquetta May, Christian Roe, Gwyneth Strong, Gordon Warnecke.
Director/Sound: Chris Goode.
Designer: Naomi Dawson.
Lighting: Colin Grenfell.
Associate designer: Libby Todd.