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

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…

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…