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 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

Melbourne Fringe: The Mission by Tom Molyneux

The widespread use of Acknowledgement of Country throughout the theatrical community is a good reminder that we live and work and tell stories on a land that has been home to Australia’s Indigenous people for forty-thousand years. Any Fringe show presenting work on the lands of the Wurundjeri people in the Birrarung are continuing a very long tradition.
Performer Tom Molyneux’s Acknowledgement of Country feeds directly into the story of The Mission; “sovereignty has never been ceded” is a strong jumping-off point for a story about our Indigenous population’s autonomy.
This personal history begins thirty-thousand years ago at the forming of Budj Bim, a volcano in Western Victoria. The Budj Bim area is a very important one to the Gunditjmara people, a site where they developed a system of aquaculture, thousands of years before European settlement.
After European settlement, it was the site of Eumerella Wars, where the Gunditjmara were overwhelmed and killed by colonisers who had the su…

Melbourne Fringe: Sleepover Gurlz by Emma Smith & Vidya Rajan

Theatre can happen anywhere. It can happen in big rooms, small rooms, warehouses, carparks and shipping containers. I saw a show on the streets of North Melbourne once. And one in the back of a car.
Sleepover Gurlz isn’t the first play I’ve seen performed in a bedroom, but this one uses its space and its premise to great effect; the intimacy is vital and this show is as much about the bedroom space as it is about the women sharing it.
Before the show, the audience is ushered upstairs to a living area to colour and paste and find their inner child. It’s an irresistible moment of pleasure that you almost regret being dragged into the bedroom for the party itself.
Creators and performers Emma Smith and Vidya Rajan are six-year-old girls, welcoming the audience to their sleepover party. We are the other girls at the party, sharing snacks and interacting with the friends who have invited us over. It’s charming and funny and silly. There’s a game of “Chinese whispers” and the uninhibited th…