Skip to main content

REVIEW: Pomona by Alistair McDowall

The cast of Pomona
Photo: Teresa Noble


“Moss and lichen carpet the corners of cracked paving along the periphery of the site, and all around Pomona is a defiant hive of life that has thrived on the urban decay that came before.”

In the space where Salford, Trafford and Manchester meet, there’s an island that was once home to thriving docks; it now sits overgrown, graffitied and abandoned.

In Alistair McDowall’s 2014 play, Pomona, after the island, itself named for the Roman goddess of fruit trees, it is owned by a man named Zeppo and guarded by a man named Charlie. And that urban decay attracts a variety of other characters from the fringes of Manchester society.

Ollie comes to the city looking for her sister, but the truth of what has happened to her becomes more and more unclear the closer Ollie gets to the centre of the story. And the audience is kept off balance by the shifting narrative focus and slippery characters, all of whom are trying to cover their tracks and stay alive.

McDowall weaves together stories of shady factory owners, sex workers, a man who is trying to control the violence inside him and another who has a deep passion for H.P. Lovecraft. In the dark concrete box under the titular island, life is bleak and mysterious. One minute someone is recounting the final scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the next a man is stabbed and then a Lovecraftian horror is unleashed upon an unsuspecting role-playing gamer.

“You can’t be a good person anymore. There’s no such thing. There’s just people who are aware of the pain they’re causing, and people who aren’t aware.”

Most of the play is made up of two-hander scenes, slices of troubling, traumatic lives, that are always compelling. And sometimes sickening. Each moment feels almost banal until cracks begin to appear; violence is under the surface of nearly every encounter. It’s not always a threat of physical violence, though. Equally, the characters are confronted with psychological horror or emotional anguish.

Sometimes things change in an instant, by the roll of a dice.

Director Gary Abrahams has gathered an incredible cast and keeps them all on stage for most of the play’s running time. It creates an overwhelming tension having these actors circled around the characters we’re focused on at any minute; they stare, as the audience does, at the drama unfolding before them. The chorus of voyeurs are standing to close, staring too intently, embodying an uncaring city at the centre of an uncaring universe.

Jonathan Hindmarsh’s set is a graffiti and concrete and a tunnel that disappears into the darkness. Kelly Ryall’s soundscape gets under the skin and is deeply unsettling. Lisa Mibus’ lighting design illuminates and obscures in equal measure.

McDowall’s work drags its audience into a space it might never go, confronting people it might never meet. But actually, the play suggests, we do see these people and we do know these places, but we choose to ignore them because life is easier that way.

Pomona is grimy, distasteful and repulsive. Get down to Red Stitch and do not look away.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

My Favourite Theatre of 2019

This year I saw some amazing theatre in Melbourne, as always, and I was lucky enough to visit London for the first time, where I saw some wonderful West End theatre and some really inventive off-West End and independent theatre.
The thing about the theatre in London is that is really seems to be working toward the ideal of diverse casting, even if behind-the-scenes (writers, directors) are still male-dominated. And it’s not just in reinventions of shows like Death of a Salesman, which was a mostly black cast; a lot of shows I saw there were female-focused with racially diverse casts.
That said, I did see a show that was ostensibly about race, which was all white.
I saw some shows again this year, which were as great as when I originally saw them, but they have been on previous year-end lists, so sorry to Hamilton, Muriel’s Wedding and Cock – you’re not on my list again this year.
The lists are in alphabetical order and links in titles to review where available.
TOP TEN 

All About Eve –…

REVIEW: Disinhibition by Christopher Bryant

Flick, known on Instagram as Flick.Eats, and George, known on Tumblr as Boyance, are social media influencers. Flick.Eats posts FODMAP recipes and Boyance is living his best gay life online, but both are lies – constructions of the kind of personalities that get likes and shares and re-blogs. When Microsoft releases a new artificial intelligence bot onto Twitter – Tay, whose followers are #TaysTeam – the world of fake online personas gets trickier to navigate.
Who are Flick and George, really? Do they even know anymore?
Disinhibition plunges the audience right into the internet, the opening scene a perfect recreation of a Twitter interaction: someone posts a photo of their cute dog, lots of other users retweet it and someone @s the original poster, telling them their dog is prettier than they are. All social niceties are gone; people will say anything to each other online.
Presented by Monash University Student Theatre (MUST) and directed with a sure hand and clear intent by Artistic …

REVIEW: Control by Keziah Warner – Red Stitch

The crew of a space ship, dressed in bold primary colours, rock from left to right in front of us, as they try to keep control of their craft. The group is racially diverse but it’s the white guy, a larrakin Aussie from Melbourne, who boldly steps forward to save the day. “It’s something I have to do.”

Keziah Warner’s Control, a science fiction triptych, begins with a scene of broad comedy, a nod to Star Trek and then jumps back in time to see how this crew ended up in such a dramatic situation. Starting a story in media res can be a pretty tired trope, but here Keziah uses it as a dramaturgical sleight-of-hand; this story is much more complicated than it first appears to be.
A pregnant woman, a puppeteer, a singer and a detective have been hand-picked to be on this space ship, leave Earth and strive to survive in “Fifteen Minutes on Mars” – a Big Brother-type reality show that is manoeuvring this ensemble toward interstellar cabin fever.
Twenty years later, in a library that promises…

REVIEW: Solaris by David Greig (based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem)

Arriving on a space station orbiting the planet Solaris, Kris Kelvin (Leeanna Walsman) is confronted by beings who are almost human, while digging through the digital archives of Dr Gibarian (Hugo Weaving), who recently died. She must try to understand what these creatures are and what other mysteries lie on the planet below, under the roiling oceans that cover its surface.

Like the Malthouse’s other current production, Wake in Fright, David Grieg’s new play is based on a novel that has also previously been a film. In fact, Stanislaw Lem’s book has been adapted into two films, several operas and a play or two before this. It’s no surprise that it would inspire great filmmakers and playwrights to bring their own versions to life; alien entities, memory and lost loved ones are all rich elements with which to explore the themes of loneliness and otherness.
Designer Hyemi Shin creates a cool, minimalist environment that’s efficiently modular; its swiftly moving doors and sliding panels e…

Melbourne Comedy Festival – Garry Starr Conquers Troy

Last year, Garry Starr explored every genre of theatre in order to try to save it. Now that he’s saved theatre, he wants to make sure actors out there know how to be the best skilled actor (or, skactor) they can be. Garry has written a book called “An Actor Pretends” about the history of pretendism.
Chapter by chapter, Garry’s vast knowledge of being a triple threat is explored on stage in front of our very eyes. He explains how to audition for a director when you’re waiting on them in a restaurant. He tells us how to act when we inevitably move to Hollywood and get botox and we can’t move our face. And then there’s his unconventional method for learning lines by osmosis.
Rubber-faced actor and comedian Damien Warren-Smith is so damn charismatic that he’ll have you on his side within minutes – and have some of you up on stage as part of Team Garry, if you dare. If you don’t want to participate, don’t sit in the front row like I did; though my moment in the spotlight only consisted of…

You are far away: Agent Cooper and his troubling return to Twin Peaks

“What year is this?” Dale Cooper asks in the final scene of Twin Peaks: The Return, the last of many unanswered questions left as the 18-part feature film concluded a week ago.
It’s far from the first time we’ve seen someone who looks like Dale Cooper lost for answers over recent months. But it might be the first time we have definitive proof that he’s in over his head.
Mr C, Dale Cooper’s doppelganger, who was first seen in the original series’ finale back in 1991, returned to the town of Twin Peaks with a goal in mind. Mr C was flexible, though. He had to be; he’d set so many things in motion over twenty-five years, if he’d remained fixated, he would never have come as far as he did.
Dougie, Dale Cooper’s tulpa – created by and from Mr C, wandered aimlessly through life, but slowly made every life he touched better. Plans change and Dougie changed with them. Slowly but surely, Dougie pieced together Cooper’s past life and became richer for it.
Agent Cooper, the third part of this T…

My Favourite Theatre of 2018

It’s that time of year again, when I look back over everything I saw on stage and put together a list of my favourite shows. I saw over 100 shows this year, mostly in Melbourne and a small number on one visit to Sydney.

I will link to reviews if I wrote one.
TOP TEN (alphabetical order)
The Almighty Sometimes – Griffin Theatre, Sydney
Kendall Feaver’s extraordinary debut play is about Anna, dealing with mood disorders and medication and the complicated relationship she has with the treatments and her mother. Superb cast and beautifully directed by Lee Lewis
Blackie Blackie Brown – Malthouse Theatre
Nakkiah Lui’s work is always amazing but this production, directed by Declan Green, was another step up for her – the satire sharper and bleaker and more hilarious than ever before.
Blasted – Malthouse Theatre
Sarah Kane’s debut play from 1990s London is a tricky beast tackling difficult subjects but Anne-Louise Sarks nailed it with a superb production.
The Bleeding Tree – Arts Centre Melbourne

Careful the things you say... Joe Wright’s HANNA & the combination of genres

Once upon a time... I tried to write a film script that melded noir and Grimm’s fairytales, where the femme fatale, clad in a slinky red dress, was also (in a way) Little Red Riding Hood. Where the lover of a hit man discovered his true identity from something hidden under his mattress. Evil (step)mothers, adopted children, hunters, princesses and family fortunes. Noir and fairytales have a lot in common and yet... I had real trouble finding the right tone for the piece. And, in the end, my script read too much like I was trying to get the concept to work, rather than telling a compelling story.

Joe Wright’s film HANNA, screenplay by Seth Lockhead and David Farr, finds the perfect balance between a high tension thriller and a fairytale coming-of-age story. And travels further into the story of this mysterious girl than the trailer suggests.
Going in, I was worried this might be too close to Leon or La Femme Nikita – the original films of which I throughly enjoyed, but would this new fil…

A Thing Isn’t Beautiful Because It Lasts: Avengers in the AGE OF ULTRON

The latest film in the Marvel Universe series feels like nothing so much as a season finale. And since Joss Whedon was once the master of creating season finales that were both emotionally satisfying and thematically resonant, it’s good to have him in charge for the second Avengers movie, Age of Ultron.
I’d like to compare it to the epic scope of Buffy’s “The Gift” but it feels more like Angel, if anything. Things change, the world moves on – and the best you can do is keep fighting. And embrace change.
Tony Stark has always been flawed, but by the third film in his own trilogy, he seemed to have found an emotional peace. But with that peace comes the idea that he can use his technology – his faith in machines being his tragic flaw – to create a replacement for the Avengers. He births an army of robots to calm the populace and fight alien foes.
Robert Downey Jnr’s Stark is such a towering figure in the Marvel Universe films – and to make him partly the villain of this new film is a s…

REVIEW: This Bitter Earth by Chris Edwards – Midsumma

A young man sips a glass of wine, waiting for us to file into the theatre, while Kylie plays. As we settle in, he’s a long way from settled – nervous, anxious, eager to tell us about a dream he’s had. Even though he knows that when most people recount dreams, they are dead boring.
He’s a country boy who has moved to the big city – let’s call it Sydney – for university. He’s sleeping on his uncle’s couch and after being shown the expected touristy sites, he starts to explore the world by himself.
He’s gay and he’s never seen a penis other than his own. He’s drawn to a busker singing “My Heart Will Go On” and shaken up by two dude-bros shouting at gay couple kissing.
“Stop shoving it down our throats,” they shout, unaware of how unintentionally homoerotic they sound. The guy whose story we’ve been following, decides to follow them.
And this is just the start of the first vignette in a series of short moments by Chris Edwards exploring queer sex and relationships in this fantastical ga…