Review: Pomona, by Alistair McDowall at the Orange Tree Theatre

Sam Swann and Charlie and Sean Rigby as Moe. Photo Manuel Harlan

Sam Swann and Charlie and Sean Rigby as Moe. Photo Manuel Harlan

Think of your life as a conveyor belt. The metaphor works perfectly in all ways, not least the physical: you only do a circle of a journey most days, and it’s difficult to get off when you want to.

This is how I think of Alistair McDowall’s Pomona: it’s the play that pushes you out of the conveyor belt. If that’s true for all good theatre, it’s more true for Pomona. Or rather Pomona throws you out in unfamiliar places: not quite scary or threatening, but places where you see things at the corner of your eye, and your heart starts racing before you have time to know why. If it’s a game, it’s thrilling, if it’s not a game, we are in serious trouble. With Pomona it’s both, all the time.

Some have compared Pomona to Dennis Kelly’s Utopia and I can see why: it’s not the story or subject matter but they have the same DNA. As with Tim Price’s Teh Internet is Serious Business, it’s a kind of hyperreality, quite literally: this world is more real than real, more energised, more alive. There is no distinction between reality, virtual reality, role playing games and popular culture. (The play starts with a page-long monologue about Indiana Jones). You only have to squint a little to see the monsters dressed as people. Or squids. Or penguins. Take your pick.

It’s a dark yet familiar world: something big and important has broken, and we all feel it at the pit of our stomach, as pressing and inarticulate as an air vacuum.

Ned Bennett’s direction creates this world out of nothing. Is there anything more ominous than a square pit and a drain hole? Stations and whorehouses and apartments and urban landscapes, all exist in that square, and in one crucial moment we go underground by just pointing a flashlight to the ceiling lighting rig. (All theatres look like underground bunkers. We just spent much time and effort to make them look like something else).

The cast does a superb job inhabiting the landscape. Sarah Middleton as Keaton looks like a cross between Kate O’Flynn and the Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass, a frozen, conflicted intensity intertwined with innocence. Nadia Clifford’s Ollie combines defiance with strangled, raw fear. Sean Rigby’s Moe is immensely moving as the man who has seen the beast within. Sam Swann is baffled and instinctively wise as Charlie.

This was my first visit at the Orange Tree Theatre, and I have already booked another production for the next two weeks. If Pomona is the calling card for Paul Miller’s intentions as artistic director, expect many exciting things.

One response to “Review: Pomona, by Alistair McDowall at the Orange Tree Theatre

  1. Thanks Poly, enjoyed your review. The Orange Tree is a bit of a trek for me especially when I can usually only see plays on a Saturday or grab one at last minute occasionally weekdays outside holiday times – it was known to me for regularly championing Vaclav Havel when no one else performed his plays in this country – now it’s offering new insights again. This season looks good and varied so I’ll be back too somwhow

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