REVIEW – Pomona (The Royal Exchange, Manchester)

Orange Tree Theatre presents in association with the National Theatre and the Royal Exchange Theatre --POMONA--
Orange Tree Theatre presents in association with the National Theatre and the Royal Exchange Theatre

Alastair McDowall’s Pomona was first performed in the round at the Orange Tree Theatre in 2014 before transferring to the National Theatre in 2015. Now, it plays in the main stage at Manchester’s Royal Exchange which is a stone throw away from Pomona island where the play is set.

The play opens with a peculiar parka and pants wearing character called Zeppo giving a comically long-winded account of a famous scene from ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark’ to Ollie, a young woman who is searching for her missing twin sister. With a mouthful of chicken nugget Zeppo (Guy Rhys) tells Ollie (Nadia Clifford) that he owns the whole city but doesn’t get involved with anything and offers the scene from Indiana Jones to highlight why some things should just be left well alone.

Under Ned Bennett’s stylish direction, what follows is a series of scenes leading up to the disappearance of Ollie’s sister. This whole narrative is segmented and does not follow a simple linear structure – it’s more like a jigsaw puzzle which the audience have to try and piece together. Exploring themes around sub-culture, gaming and the sinister underworld, Pomona is a brutal and gritty sci-fi thriller.

Georgia Lowe’s stripped set design complements McDowall’s dark story thread which charts flashbacks to Ollie’s sister meeting Fay (Rebecca Humphries) when she gets a job in a brothel; we also encounter Gale ( Rochenda Sandall) a seemingly powerful presence in the criminal underworld and two security guards Charlie (Sam Swann) and Moe (Sean Rigby). Alongside this we meet squeaky and mouse-like Keaton (Sarah Middleton) who meets with Charlie regularly for a game of Dungeons and Dragons. Sam Swann is particularly impressive as oddball Charlie and provides some very funny moments amidst the hopelessness.

Some theatre goers may find Pomona hard going – there is frequent strong language and the characters inhabit a place which some of the audience may prefer not to visit. As the play progresses the outlook for the characters becomes bleaker and the line between fantasy and reality more blurred. There is a sense of confusion and a lot of questions still remain unanswered by the end of the play. Ultimately, Pomona is a powerful, menacing and intelligent piece of work by Alastair McDowall.

-Kristy Stott

Pomona is running at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester until Sunday 21 November 2015.