Actors including Nicole Kidman, Benedict Cumberbatch, FKA Twigs, Chiwetel Ejiofor and James McAvoy will perform monologues drawn from first-hand accounts of children growing up in the rural township of Rammulotsi, South Africa, in a one-off production directed by Danny Boyle.
“The rawness of the original stories in the Children’s Monologues punches you in the stomach,” said Boyle. “They have that directness that you find with children anywhere. Kids can’t compartmentalise or filter traumatic stuff so they just say it. With that directness comes this terrible heart-wrenching intimacy.”
The children’s testimonies, adapted for the stage by playwrights including David Hare, Laura Wade, Neil LaBute, James Graham and Jack Thorne, share experiences that range from moments of childish discovery to accounts of sexual abuse and the suffering caused by Aids.
Boyle said the monologues were a vital way of ensuring the often-silenced voices of these children could be heard loudly, first on the London stage but also across the country, as The Children’s Monologues is then shared with community theatre groups and libraries across the UK.
The play, which boasts an impressive cast also including Josh Hartnett, Kit Harrington, David Thewlis and Christopher Eccleston, was conceived by oscar-winning director Boyle as a way to raise awareness and funds for his charity, Dramatic Need, which helps children in Africa through using art to help them cope with trauma and also as a tool to educate.
“The stories are shocking,” Boyle said. “You don’t always want to know these things are going on in the world, especially to children, but when those actors get up on stage in London it will mean that another thousand people hear those stories, and that those kids really have a hell of a voice.”
Boyle said that live music from FKA Twigs, rapper Little Simz and classical piano from James Rhodes would be fused alongside the stories.
Actor Josh Hartnett got involved with the charity after working with its founder, former actor Amber Sainsbury, on the film 30 Days of Night . He will be performing a piece adapted by Tanika Gupta, which is a compilation of three different testimonies which deal with the children’s relationship with their mothers.
“It’s a very moving piece,” said Hartnett. “It’s about a young person talking about their mother being a hero to them – all the lessons she taught them as a child and all the lessons they are trying to hold on to as they grow up – but it turns out at the end that their mother has died of Aids.
“But for me, when I read the monologue, it immediately brought me back to thinking about my relationship with my own mother and the way that I saw things when I was younger.”
Hartnett made his stage debut in London in 2008 in a production of Rain Man, but admitted monologues were new territory for him as an actor.
“I think it’s a really effective project; letting actors who people really respond to give a voice to these children whom we would otherwise never hear. There’s something about the way children see the world that can lead to some of the funniest, most provocative and evocative work because it is unencumbered by years of cynicism.”
Playwright Laura Wade, the writer of Posh, adapted the testimony of a young girl called Goodness, who spoke about being raped by one of her family members. Wade said she had been drawn to the piece not only by the power of her story but also by the “universality” of it; how she had protected other adults in her life from finding out what had happened to her.
Children’s voices need to be heard
“I thought that was a really interesting, a really sad and a really affecting idea about the way children do find themselves protecting the adults from the reality of their lives,” she said. “For me it was about seeing a dramatic potential there really.”
Wade’s piece will see her reunited with Kit Harington, who appeared in the first cast of Posh, and will be the actor performing Goodness’s monologue.
“You work very hard with this sort of project not to be patronising and to allow the children’s voices to be heard,” explained Wade. “They are such universal stories, so it’s about getting to the heart of the story really and telling it in the right spirit.
“Part of the brief is translating the piece into something which has slightly more metaphor to it, and something that theatre does really well is find the meaning and humanity underlying the facts [and turn it] into something which can become universal and meaningful and therefore relatable.”
The Children’s Monologues will be performed at the Royal Court Theatre on Sunday 25 October.