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Pomona – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Writer: Alistair McDowall
Director: Ned Bennett
Reviewer: Iain Sykes

Alistair McDowall’s Pomona is coming home. Home to the city that bears the desolate island of the title, all cracked concrete, surrounded by canals and tram lines, cut off from the rest of the city by a gated single road in and out. Not that local knowledge adds anything to this play apart from saving the audience a glance at the explanatory notes in the programme. The scene is set so vividly in McDowall’s darkly compelling play that anybody even in somewhere as far removed from Manchester docks as, say, Richmond upon Thames, where this production debuted last year, is immediately drawn right into the surroundings.

Played out on Georgia Lowe’s simple concrete style stage and under atmospheric sparse flickering fluorescent lighting designed by Elliott Griggs, humour abounds from the outset with Guy Rhys’ Zappo, the chicken nugget addicted man who “owns” the city explaining in his own way, the ending of a classic Indiana Jones film (the one with the lost ark) while Ollie (Nadia Clifford), in search of her missing sister, hands out dice to a human figure in a freakish octopus mask. The point is made that one shouldn’t look too much for answers in anything. Think things can’t get any stranger? Think again.

In a deliberately disjointed play, we are introduced to characters such as Rochenda Sandall’s Gale and Rebecca Humphries’ Fay, both panicking and on the run, and Sam Swann’s rôle-playing-game obsessed Charlie who reveals his innermost fetishes as though he’s chatting about what he had for tea to his fellow security guard Moe (Sean Rigby). Add in Charlie’s game-playing partner Sarah Middleton’s quiet, mysterious Keaton, and a brothel from where girls disappear for dark purposes and it’s a creepily compelling mix superbly acted by the strongest of casts.

But the star of this production really is the play itself. Sharply written by McDowall and directed by Ned Bennett, with liberal doses of, sometimes unexpected, humour from beginning to end, it begins as an unfathomable play with a series of seemingly unconnected events given to us in a very non-linear timeline, which begin to tantalisingly coalesce before pulling the rug from under the audience yet again. It’s a play without conclusion, left deliberately vague. Are, as one character says, all the bad things real? Is it all played out in the imagination? Wherever the truth lies, this is definitely one of those occasions where one shouldn’t look too hard for it.

Best just to sit back and enjoy the emotional ride of this stunning, nightmarish, funny, creepy, bleak and totally enthralling play.

Runs until 21 November 2015 | Image: Richard Davenport

Writer: Alistair McDowall Director: Ned Bennett Reviewer: Iain Sykes Alistair McDowall’s Pomona is coming home. Home to the city that bears the desolate island of the title, all cracked concrete, surrounded by canals and tram lines, cut off from the rest of the city by a gated single road in and out. Not that local knowledge adds anything to this play apart from saving the audience a glance at the explanatory notes in the programme. The scene is set so vividly in McDowall’s darkly compelling play that anybody even in somewhere as far removed from Manchester docks as, say, Richmond…

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