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Royal Exchange, Manchester

Something decidedly strange is happening on Pomona – the deserted concrete island that sits between Salford and Manchester in the middle of the river Irwell. In this dystopian future world, women are going missing in worrying numbers, while Gale (Rochenda Sandall) is taking extreme lengths to conceal what’s actually happening to them. Meanwhile, security guards Moe and Charlie, are charged with the task of guarding something hidden beneath the ground, something they don’t know anything about; and what does all this have to do with the ancient octopus-faced god, Cthulhu? It’s a good question and one I’m still not entirely sure I have the answer to.

Fresh from its success at the National Theatre in London, Alistair McDowall’s Pomona now makes its debut in the city where it’s actually set. It’s a labyrinthine tale, featuring seven disparate characters. The play’s themes: prostitution, sexuality and murder are probably intended to shock, but in truth these elements aren’t anything like as convincing as the ones that deal with Role Playing Games, something that seems to provide the main clue as to what’s actually going on here. The story isn’t told in a linear way – instead, it switches back and forth in time, so sometimes we know what’s going to happen to a character before he or she actually gets there.

The play begins with underwear-clad wheeler-dealer Zeppo (Guy Rhys) performing an extended monologue based around the climactic scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark for Ollie (Nadia Clifford) who is looking for her missing twin sister. Zeppo advises her not to look too hard, pointing out that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. But she goes looking anyway…

Individually, the ensuing scenes are mostly good, nicely acted and occasionally very funny – the ones featuring the hapless Charlie (Sam Swann) are particularly successful in this regard – and there are some nicely choreographed sections, where everything promises to fall into place, but never quite does. The fragmented nature of the work makes it feel more like a collection of short pieces in search of a story arc, so the overall play is somehow less than the sum of its parts, even if many of those parts offer much to admire.

Ultimately, I felt that Pomona was a little too pleased with itself for comfort – but the enthusiastic applause from tonight’s audience suggested that others found it captivating. One thing’s for sure. Here’s another play that will have you discussing its meaning long after you’ve headed for home.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney


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