“Everything bad is real.” Moe (Sean Rigby) the security guard appears to give the audience a clue, somewhere in the second half of this mind-bending drama. Set in an apocalyptic Manchester, Pomona deals with the darkest, innermost human urges and the horrifying consequences of these. But as the violent Moe tells the young Charlie (Sam Swann), while on the hunt for a runaway prostitute (Rebecca Humphries), “She’s involved. We’re involved. This is what happens.”
Alistair McDowall’s decidedly dark and fantastical tale pulls the wool over your eyes several times in a complex, layered narrative that involves various levels of reality, ultimately not landing on one wholly satisfactorily, leaving the audience bewildered once it’s over. The intensity of the story and the mysterious characters linger in the mind long after. This play is not for the faint of heart: illegal organ harvesting, trade in newborns, snuff films – it’s all there.
While the atrocities apparently take place within a Dungeons & Dragons-inspired role-playing game devised by Charlie and played by him and Keaton (Sarah Middleton) (a girl who has responded to his call for members to his club), the events seem to slowly but surely grow bigger than fiction and become all too real. But then again, nothing is certain in Pomona: all might as well have been a bad dream.
Money plays a significant part in the illicit dealings in town: Keaton’s expensive clothes, Charlie’s fascination with pricey things, the suspiciously high salary paid by Gale (Grace Thurgood) to guard Pomona, the money paid to kill, the price of organs and babies, the money paid for sex and porn.
Wonderfully swift but precise direction by Ned Bennett combined with sound design by Giles Thomas and lighting by Elliot Griggs transport us to the cold, big city in the production at the Orange Tree. Moments of complete darkness and occasional light flashes work so well to emphasise the surreal nature of the piece as well as nod to the comic book fantasies out of which the game has sprung.
The acting is strong, and it is especially Guy Rhys as Zeppo, opening the action in an overheated rant describing Raiders of the Lost Ark to Ollie (Nadia Clifford), who convinces in this weird, dark but wonderful production about what goes on in the shadows of the mind.
Pomona is at once brutal and tender in its treatment of its characters and McDowall deserves a medal for unafraid writing that is not easily forgotten.
Pomona is playing at the Orange Tree until 13 December. For more information and tickets, see the Orange Tree Theatre.