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The Fest Test: The Ballad

It's my first time at the Bruce Mason (he of the play The End of the Golden Weather, about his childhood on Takapuna Beach). It was still being fundraised for when I lived round these parts.
The Ballad of Pondlife McGurk is actually a beautiful companion piece to Bruce Mason's own monologue of memories of childhood.

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The latest Auckland Arts Festival blog from Mark Amery.


11am Saturday 9 March

The latest Auckland Arts Festival blog from Mark Amery.


11am Saturday 9 March

Let's take a walk along the beach before the tide comes in, as Don McGlashan sang in The Front Lawn's Andy. This is Takapuna beach. I can't come to this place without that song appearing in my head. I went in ankle deep next to the jet skis. It's warm. The end of the golden weather. Glad I bought my Jandles.

We're now on our way back over the Coathanger bridge, enroute to Te Tuhi Gallery Pakuranga (taking a North to East trajectory today). We've just seen the 11am session of Scottish play The Ballad of Pondlife McGurk at the Bruce Mason Centre. It's my first time at the Bruce Mason (he of the play The End of the Golden Weather, about his childhood on Takapuna Beach). It was still being fundraised for when I lived round these parts.

It's a beatific place on a sunny day - see the pic of the view from the theatre. But instead of being ushered into the theatre I have never seen, we are shown into the conference room, where we are asked to sit on carpet mats, as if at school.

It is in a way the most untheatrical show I have ever seen, and delightful for it. Just actor dressed in mufti , moving around the St Andrews cross pathways between four mats with the physicality of the young schoolboys he portrays. A soft surround soundscape adds a beautiful blush to the action.

This charming devised solo work tells the story of two Primary School boys: quiet, bullied Simon, with an artistic bent, who becomes nicknamed Pondlife McGurk after an unfortunate dip in the pond at the Botanic Gardens; and his best friend Martin, the soon-to-be hero of the school soccer team. It's the story of a typical male childhood friendship, made and then ripped asunder in the schoolyard division between art and sport. It's a story worth telling.

The bare theatrical style reflects the magic of childhood: of making up stories and theatre out of nothing. A key image is Martin seeing a cloud transforming into a flying horse. The writing and performance also beautifully encapsulate the emotional vulnerability of being a young lad. Of feeling on the outside.

There's a lovely attention to the detail of senses, objects and events: making dens, strobing light sabers, a cartoon of a lamppost peeing on a dog, "Sharon's been to Bognor and seen a dead rat." It is the story of an ordinary childhood, the magic and humiliation of it all.

The Ballad of Pondlife McGurk is actually a beautiful companion piece to Bruce Mason's own monologue of memories of childhood. A smart piece of programming to have it here, and a trip to Takapuna the perfect festival experience.

Riding the coathanger over the harbour in my pal Cushla's nicely scungy Toyota, Cynthia, as the city comes into view, another line from McGlashan's Andy comes into my head: "They're making money out of money, they're making buildings out of glass, and none of its gonna last."

That song was about looking back a a childhood friendship as an adult, and here I am, returning from childhood to the adult world of the city.

Written by

Mark Amery

9 Mar 2013

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.