Review: The Ballad of Pondlife McGurk

The Ballad of Pondlife McGurk by Rob Evans is an hour-long one man show with a surprising 70s feel. This comes across strongly in the set, which consists of four boxes, four benches and four stretches of carpet, all in the same shade of brown. Watching the show feels like finding a faded snap of two young boys in your dad’s old scrapbook, which then – thanks to the amazing energy of actor Peter Collins – springs to life in a multi-dimensional adventure.

The boys in question are two new kids on the first day of term, standing apprehensively before a menacing class of primary sixes. Martin has moved to Edinburgh from Birmingham, and gravitates towards the shy and awkward Simon McGurk.

Peter Collins dips in and out of an enthralling myriad of characters, leaping around and through the mesmerized, largely primary-aged audience. I could vividly picture Sharon, the class bully, and felt reprimanded by primary seven teacher Mr Truman. We are left wondering – was it the shift from toe-curlingly simpering Mrs Nangle to the overbearing Truman that pushed Martin out from the warmth of the summer holiday montage (an impressive workout for Collins) and over to the dark side?

The writing resembles an Anne Fine novel, with regular oases of refreshing poetic imagery. A whistle stop tour of boyhood, it gives us football, Star Wars and the ultimate “school’s out” anthem; ‘Mr Blue Sky’ by ELO. This is a classic coming of age story, and at its core is the love between two schoolboys. Their bond stays in both boys’ minds from their parting until their reunion, and we feel everything they go through. The familiar jibes of the “Neanderthals”. The triumphant thrills along the way. The overwhelming injustice of Pondlife McGurk acquiring his nickname. The jitters as the two men reconcile after all these years, echoing the trepidation from the day they met for the first time.

With a lavish use of the space and a stunning score, it’s an hour well spent for everyone over the age of nine.

The Ballad of Pondlife McGurk finished its Scottish tour at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow on 27 October and next headed for performances in the US. See Catherine Wheels website for more details.


Claire McCracken

Claire trained as an actor and has worked with Rhema Theatre Company, National Theatre of Scotland, Historical Adventures Ltd and TAG. Claire also writes and directs for StreetLamp Theatre Company.