“What kind of f*cking world is it, where I’m allowed to live in it?”
Alistair McDowell’s Pomona is an evocative look at a complex urban society where people go missing and no one wants to find out why.
The mystery takes some time to develop. The play immediately throws you off guard with a genre fusing retelling of Raiders of the Lost Ark. As a well-known 1980s classic, it at first appeared a humorous reference. On reflection, it was our first indication of a corrupt system, where did the Ark go? What were the government hiding? These elements of secrecy and closed doors is the realm in which “Pomona” inhabits. The eponymous “Pomona” is a derelict “island” within a canal in the centre of a city that hides a dangerous secret. Like so much of the play, the reasons behind this are left unknown yet it is the one place the characters continually have to confront.
It is hard to say whether the play has one consistent protagonist but the closest we have is Ollie (Serena Brymer). In her desperate attempts to find her sister in a grim underbelly of city life, she is thrown into the world of Zetto and “Pomona” – a world he won’t even acknowledge. Zetto’s enduring message is not to get involved, something Ollie inevitably ignores.
An interesting aspect of the play, is the notion of agency. The ambiguity, and the story told out of chronology shifts the positions of power throughout the play. Is it the enigmatic Zetto, the broken prostitute Fay (Amie Howells), the serious and violent Moe (Jacob Hobbins), the dice rolling Charlie (Joseph Hayes), the boss Gale (Em Barrett) or the girl Keaton (Amelia Schiller) who controls “Pomona”? Through incredible performances from the entire cast, the power shifts from one to another through fiction and reality. Yet, each character falls victim to the terrible consequences of “Pomona.”
Violence, corruption with an organ black market, “Pomona” certainly has elements of horror. The influence of author H P Lovecraft is clear and he is referenced throughout. “Pomona” like Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, is an inherently destructive force outside people’s live. These elements of science fiction are woven in neatly which only adds to the ambiguity of what “Pomona” is really about. The Lovecraft allusion was particularly overt through another initially humorous scene in which two characters play Dungeons and Dragons. The game in itself, as an imaginary concept, was reflective of how well subtle indication of setting is in creating a rich and believable world on stage.
The production was minimalist and innovative. A standout scene was Ollie’s search for her sister within the confines of the tunnels beneath Pomona’s surface. The fast paced dialogue across the cast created a sense of urgency and the mounting tension to Ollie’s discovery. Through the simple use of a blacked out room and torch light, the audience were taken down the twists and turns of a dark and sterile labyrinth. It was clear this was a highly rehearsed piece of choreography – and it paid off. Synchronised torch lighting from the cast members themselves brought the production into the hands of the actors. However, this is not to diminish the sound and lighting throughout the rest of the play. This was one of many impressive stage directions by both Samantha Finley and David Bolwell. From a bustling shopping centre, to a shady brothel to “Pomona” itself, the stage was transformed into a tangible – but depressing – urban world.
The cyclical nature of the play created the sense that this is a story that has been told or lived more than once. It is certainly a depressing view of urban life. Ollie’s search for her sister began as the play ended. As a result, the play asks more questions than it answers. However, highly professional and thought provoking, “Pomona” is well worth a visit to Hes East.
“Pomona” has further performances on the 24th and 26th November at the Department of Theatre, Film and Television on Heslington East