Written by Alistair Mcdowall and set in the underbelly of Manchester, Pomona is a kind of looping dystopian nightmare that unfolds in cars, brothels and a mysterious underground lair. Dealing with themes including sexual exploitation, violence and organ harvesting, it’s not exactly upbeat stuff.
The play opens with a healthy dose of the surreal – a man in underpants and a duffel coat gorges on chicken nuggets whilst giving a ranting synopsis of Raiders of the Lost Ark to a young girl. Watching silently in the corner is a strange figure in a bizarre octopoid mask…
Initially the weirdness is more of a curious novelty, but the story soon starts to unfold and quickly engages. At times the plot seemed a little confusing -the idiosyncratic style and surreality were a little bewildering and I am certain that a few of the key themes went over my head, but Pomona is generally easy to follow.
Ollie (Nadia Clifford) searches for her twin sister who, along with several other women, has disappeared. She soon finds that everything is leading her to Pomona. Ollie’s search is interwoven with two other characters playing a role playing game, which simultaneously gives the audience a kind of alternate reality.
The ominous Pomona itself, a mysterious concrete wasteland hidden in the centre of the city, was obviously symbolising something of the unknown and unpalatable aspects of life, that are concealed – or ignored – despite being all around us. An ambitious attempt, but I felt that the story was perhaps not the best vehicle to convey such messages.
The cyclical narrative was both interesting and slightly infuriating. Whilst it was thought provoking, the movie goer in me, raised on classic American adventures (such as Indiana Jones!), wanted to see some sort of traditional resolution to the story, but many questions went unanswered. I may be missing the point, but at times I felt the play was a little too disjointed.
The performances were commendable; the characters were individually captivating, though the interaction between each occasionally seemed superficial. I felt that Clifford was a little weak at the beginning. Perhaps she was just initially overshadowed by the more interesting character of Zeppo (Guy Rhys) who, along with Sam Swann as Charlie, gave the standout performance.
Strobe lighting, complete darkness and chaotic scene overlaps added to the excitement; though giving a distinct impression that the play was aimed at a more youthful audience, they were a creative way of meeting the challenge of an arena stage.
Thought provoking and entertaining, the story was just a little too movie-like to not be resolved.