What is immediately arresting about Pomona is the way in which director Ned Bennett and designer Georgia Lowe spill this dark and twisted world beyond the stage space. Strip lights flicker in the corridor of the National’s Temporary Theatre – a state that then effectively dominates the stage space itself. The actors sit spread out in the shadows around the edge of the theatre in the round, while Guy Rhys lays sprawled on stage. At first glance he looks like a homeless person or a drunk, but it soon becomes clear that he is more powerful than his mismatched attire initially suggests. This is just the first instance where writer Alistair McDowall and Bennett challenge our preconceptions of who the characters are, and where we are.
Pomona is a dark thriller set in Manchester (it’s disconcertingly refreshing to hear northern accents, a reminder of the rarity of seeing a production on the West End where regional accents dominate over RP). The play spills into black humour, feeling like a hybrid of Doctor Who meets Hot Fuzz meets earthy sitcom-drama. Bennett immerses us in a world where violence, crime and misogynism are the norm. Women live in fear, and are forced into prostitution and dangerous forms of pornography, as well as other, even more horrendous crimes. McDowall cleverly poises his narrative on the edges of reality, so that we are forced to confront the ethics of being complicit in unspeakable acts, and to consider what our fantasies reveal about ourselves.
The production features an excellent team of both creatives and cast. Particularly, the double-handers between Nadia Clifford and Rebecca Humphries, and between Sarah Middleton and Sam Swann. The latter pair are blessed with some of the most beautifully understated moments of McDowall’s dialogue. Giles Thomas provides an eery bass-heavy score to underpin the heightened world of Pomona (although the bass needs to be toned down in the pre-set). The action is slick and boasts some intricately choreographed scene changes, which, combined with Giles Thomas’ score, effectively generate the sci-fi film-esque feel of the piece.
The main flaw of the play is that it tries to tackle too many themes. Instead of leaving strands untied, McDowall then attempts to provide resolution to a play with too many disparate things going on. He would benefit from elongating the script in order to have enough time to tackle all the angles he is attempting to. Nonetheless, this is an original concept and a tight execution from a talented team.
Pomona is playing at The National Theatre’s Temporary Theatre until 10 October. For more information and tickets, see the National Theatre website. Photo by The National Theatre.