A monkey and a crocodile. Together. In the same playground. In the UK. Surely not. Joe Raynor investigates…
Stranger things have happened in the name of theatre, but you would be forgiven for approaching this one with a suspicious eye. However, Poppy Burton-Morgan, one of two Artistic Directors of Metta Theatre (along with her husband William Reynolds, who is also resident designer) soon puts my mind at ease. All was revealed by Burton-Morgan, whose love of theatre is evident in her voice as she explains to me what it is all about. Monkey and Crocodile is the name of Metta Theatre’s new show – panic over, there’s no need for the one way ticket to somewhere safe. In fact, it would be more sensible to get yourself a ticket for Monkey and Crocodile, because not only is it sure to be entertaining but also tickets are free! Monkey and Crocodile will be touring to playgrounds near you very soon, see below for actual dates
The fact that there will be theatre in a playground should be enough to send you to the box office, but when Burton-Morgan reveals there will be all kinds of acrobatics involved and the odd bit of skateboarding, it really ups the ante. What intrigued me is that so far we have a monkey, a crocodile, a playground, a load circus tricks and skateboarding all in the name of theatre. But what is it actually about? Monkey and Crocodile is described by Burton-Morgan as “a joyous extravaganza of juggling, music and acrobatics with a poignant coming-of-age love story at its heart”. The show is based on an old Indian fable about a monkey and a crocodile who become friends against all the odds. The original fable has been radically reworked and adapted by Burton-Morgan for this production but the core aspects still remain. “It’s love story, a West Side Story/ Romeo and Juliet between a monkey and a crocodile.” It is sounding more and more interesting by the minute.
Monkey and Crocodile is theatre for the family, especially accessible to children who will connect immediately with the playground setting. “The crocodile’s mum totally disapproves of their relationships, she’s a bit of a villain,” Burton-Morgan explains. Naturally, you couldn’t cast a crocodile mother and not give her the role of lead villain, it would be a theatrical sin. Burton-Morgan continues: “on some levels it’s emotionally complex and quite challenging for a younger audience because there are parallels with interracial relationships and single parent families”. This play should most definitely not be written off as something only for a younger audience. The deeper you scrutinise Monkey and Crocodile, the more that is revealed; this is a child-friendly but challenging piece of experimental theatre.
Performing in a public space like a playground is easier said than done, so why would Metta ever think it was a good idea? Well Burton-Morgan states: “there’s a lot of paperwork but a playground as a site is already of imaginative place for a child, children go to playgrounds and they think they’re a pirate or an astronaut, they already engage with the playground equipment in a way that takes an imaginative leap and we’re really interested in this”. Another reason was that “playgrounds attract audiences that theatre don’t, necessarily.” Metta Theatre is a forward-thinking company, attempting to create new, brilliant, innovative theatre for people who don’t normally find themselves in the auditorium, especially the younger generation.
Metta Theatre was set up in 2005 when Burton-Morgan and Reynolds were still students at university, “and it just kept growing and growing and growing, we moved to London and started doing stuff at the fringe, and over the years got funding, shows got bigger and better, and we started touring, now seven or eight years later we’ll still doing it”. When asked what made Burton-Morgan take the leap of faith and form a company that would become her career, she replies, “I’m a pretty bold, well, I move in a bold way. It was very much set up out of the desire to have the freedom to make the work we want to make. It’s really good fun.”
The name of the company is very important for both Burton-Morgan and Reynolds: it is the basic ethos of the company. Metta, firstly, being a “Buddhist word that means compassion, and that underpins both the process by which we make the work – we run a very friendly company, and we work compassionately – but also the work we present is engaged in matter of the heart in some way.” Burton-Morgan continues “on an artistic level we are really interested in the meta-theatrical, in the sense of theatre that is aware of its own theatricality.”
The target audience for Monkey and Crocodile is of course a younger person, but there is something for everyone in this show. Why should you go? Well it will be completely different from anything else you’ve ever seen before. Site responsive theatre in a playground has very rarely been done, and Metta Theatre is really on new ground here, which makes the prospect even more exciting. Experimental theatre that is family friendly should be celebrated in the artistic world as a rare find. There is not enough of it around, so don’t miss your chance to see Monkey and Crocodile.
Monkey and Crocodile will be at Greenwich & Docklands International Festival, Stanton House Play Site, Meridan Estate, Wellend Road, SE10 on 22 June (1pm & 4.30pm) and 23 June (12pm & 3.15pm). See http://www.mettatheatre.co.uk/ for details for Greenwich, other London dates and UK tour. All shows are FREE and UNTICKETED.