Talking Heads reporter Callum McLean reviews Pondlife, which was performed at Platform in their Headspace programme at the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival. The play tells a story, known intimately by most people but neglected in public, which is essential to the modern world.
From the very beginning the world is a strange and confusing place to us. Hence, as soon we acquire a basic understanding of speech and language, most of us attempt to challenge the world we know so little about, demanding more information, questioning everything and everyone, before our juvenile embarrassment slowly blossoms to corrode our once imperative inquisition. The once vocal questions to our esteemed elders quickly retreat to a new place – one equally as strange and confusing as the world around us – ourselves.
Aimed primarily at children aged 9+, Pondlife is a one-man performance. It tells the story of Martin and Simon, two boys who become best friends after Simon, who was raised in Birmingham, moves to Martin’s Scottish school at the beginning of primary five. The two remain inseparable all through the year and the summer, becoming fully content with their own friendship and referring to their more obnoxious seeming peers as ‘Neanderthals’. As time passes, however, Simon’s football skills are noticed by the ‘Neanderthals’, and Simon’s new bond with those he once ridiculed eventually tarnishes the once solid friendship between the two. Simon grows ever keener to avoid Martin and join the other group.
In Pondlife the ‘Neanderthals’ chose who was allowed to hang around with them and those who could not. And it was the ‘Neanderthals’ who could decide what was and was not cool at that time. Who gave this specific group of children this level of stature to call the shots on these subjects at such an age? And why, again, is this story so ever present in today’s world?
Simon was good at football, and this made him far more popular, whereas, at the age of ten, the class consensus was that Martin was not good enough at football to receive an invitation of friendship. An example of the general rule, common on playgrounds everywhere, that a young boy with sporting ability is more respected than one who is not. But at this age, just as a hierarchy of classroom popularity is developing, children never ask: why is this?
At some point in our life, we gain the ability to ask ourselves: what am I and what should I be? Almost subconsciously, we learn the answers through our surroundings. Looking at our peers, the latest top selling musical artists and obsessing over our intuition of the latest trends, we obtain a relatively vast array of knowledge. Despite our self-disciplined education, one which even our older generations notoriously struggle to comprehend, there appears to be rare time for a child to learn to ask: who am I?
After having spent years of quizzing and learning, the most confusing and difficult years to date appear, just as the essential questions of life we so long sought the answers to dissipate into a façade of classroom credibility. Never do we learn at a faster rate than our youth, but can be a time absolutely detrimental to our mental development which will ultimately affect us for the rest of our lives. Although, obviously, it is very important to note how everyone’s development at this time varies, the scale of our lack of education in mental self-reflection cannot be ignored.
If there is one thing the play highlights, it is this serious issue which appears to be ignored far more than it is understood in the modern world. How did a child as young as Simon stop asking what he wanted to know about the world, and focus instead on what he wanted the world to know about him? Of course, the effects of this can be drastic in the long term, as shown in the play, where Simon and Martin’s friendship ended all communication for a total of 30 years.
The performance concludes at the point right before the two meet again, provoking the audience to question how much forgiveness Simon is owed regarding his actions made thirty years before, and thus to question who is to blame for the falling out, with 30 years hindsight.
And in these situations, who is to blame? The answer is more complex than simply naming a ten year old boy. What seems far more plausible is how easily the world around us can educate us in ways in which we are very unaware. This appears true throughout many ages, but the younger we are the more susceptible we appear to this potentially damaging influence.
Although a clear answer to this issue is not immediately apparent, it seems clear that children today can be forced away from anything from their train set to their trend set far too easily against their will. Therefore, one helpful conclusion could be to closer examine the relevance of this play, and the relationship between modern trends and expectations about growing up, which affects the way we ultimately feel comfortable treating each other. It is clear that this discussion should be held far more commonly throughout every stage of our lives.
by Callum McLean
MORE EVENTS AT Headspace
Headspace is the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival's annual programme at Platform in Glasgow, which this year celebrates its first decade. All events are free unless specified.
Creative Collective members worked with artist Katy Dye on a restorative storytelling project that straddles art, technology and social engagement, bringing people and communities together. This installation takes the form of a recorded, spoken and written word tour of Easterhouse.
The Art Factory present a large collaborative installation created with artists in residence, Mitch Miller and Heather Lander. Inspired by stories and memories of Greater Easterhouse, members of the The Art Factory have created their own unique community map.
Robbie has noticed that people bump into him in the street and nobody ever really looks at him — they always look to the side or beyond him. This powerful show is all about caring, exploring the life of a young carer and why he feels invisible.
Mon 24 Oct
£8.50 | £5 | £4
A day of celebration featuring some of the innovative projects that have shaped Platform’s first decade. The events reflect Platform’s aspirations of being recognised as a centre for excellence for public engagement, and celebrate examples of innovative practice from around Scotland and beyond.
Fri 28 Oct
A cross-generational interactive performance and audio event that celebrates the stories, histories and communities of Scotland’s dance floors.
Sat 29 Oct
£8.50 | £5 | £4