Monkey Bars, Traverse Theatre, *****; Bottleneck, Pleasance Courtyard, ****
This is a lovely idea. For Monkey Bars, Chris Goode interviewed over 70 six to eleven year olds about the world and then put their words, verbatim, into the mouths of besuited adult actors and actresses in adult situations.
A rapid-fire discussion about favourite sweets becomes a po-faced job interview; a chat about dreams takes place on the psychotherapist’s couch; a girl talks about the inspirations for her stories like a bestselling author on stage at a book festival.
If it sounds cute, it certainly is in parts but Goode’s production, featuring his trademark atmospheric soundtrack, is beautifully pitched. On a fluid set of glowing, giant white building blocks, the children’s words are performed with just the right mix of humour and seriousness by an accomplished cast.
There are humorous chats about celebrity, the differences between boys and girls (two boys opining on girls conclude: “It’s just disappointing. They should just improve!”) and the relative merits of beards and superpowers but we also find out what the youngest members of society think of the Olympics, the Royal Family, even quantitative easing (“Fake money... they can print it off the internet”).
Most touching, and troubling is the realisation that childhood is tinged with a thousand tiny fears and worries - from broken arms and bad dreams, to wars and religion. Goode's inspiration for the piece was that “sometimes adults don’t really listen to children” - and yet they clearly spend their lives listening to us. It’s an eye-opening, refreshing pleasure to spend 75 minutes redressing the balance. Warmly recommended.
Over at Pleasance, another childhood story plays out, this time in the form of 13-year old Scouse scamp Greg. Performed by James Cooney with dervish-like enthusiasm, it’s an explosive tale of the tricky journey to manhood - a monologue of friendship, girls, moustache-envy and football. What starts out as an apparently non-specific tale of growing up on a dead-end estate eventually becomes rooted in a familiar story. No spoilers here: suffice to say, the realisation of where the tale is heading, when it dawns, is like a punch in the guts.
As with Chapel Street, his play about binge drinking for Old Vic New Voices at the Underbelly, Luke Barnes, 24, captures the voice of Britain’s youth with wit and compassion. He emerges from this year’s Fringe as a red-hot writing talent to watch.
Monkey Bars, to 26 August (0131 228 1404); Bottleneck, to 26 August (0131 556 6550)
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