Pomona: Royal Exchange

All I can say is I’m glad I didn’t have to write a review for Pomona in an official capacity. Five days after seeing it at the Royal Exchange, I still don’t know exactly how to describe it… But I’ll give it a go.

  • Pomona is confusing. The story begins with Ollie, who has arrived in Manchester in search of her missing sister. The narrative jumps back and forth, following both Ollie’s quest and the events leading to her twin’s disappearance (both characters are played by the same actress, but it’s usually clear which one we are watching). A second layer is added to the narrative with the introduction of characters Charlie and Keaton, who are playing an RPG board game modelled on Ollie’s quest – Keaton then appears in Ollie’s timeline of events later on. The play ends by coming full circle, as Ollie’s twin appears wondering where her sister is. Alistair McDowall’s script makes apt reference to the Manchester ring road and Arndale shopping centre, never-ending circles that loop and repeat just like the plot of Pomona. Although the audience are denied a nice, neat resolution at the play’s close, it’s more of an intriguing than a frustrating watch.
  • Pomona is dark, not one for the easily shocked. Zeppo – who Ollie encounters in the opening scene – is a foul-mouthed crime lord in a parka and dirty Y-fronts. Scenes between prostitutes discussing their work is unstintingly graphic – though there are no sex scenes in the play – and the criminal activity secretly based in Pomona is seriously unpleasant. (It involves hundreds of unconscious women, let’s just put it that way.) There’s violence too – when the security guards at Pomona are forced to self-inflict injuries to cover up their mistakes, one is fatally stabbed and the stage is soon bathed in his blood. The tension created by scenes like these is sustained well by the use of prolonged blackouts in between, and the lack of interval.
  • In spite of this, Pomona is funny. Several of the characters are inherently comic: Zeppo, with his opening monologue about Indiana Jones and addiction to chicken nuggets; Charlie the awkward Dungeons and Dragons nerd, who confesses to certain urges in graphic detail; Keaton, the painfully quiet player of Charlie’s game who ruthlessly rejects his advances. The cast play the script expertly for laughs, providing relief from the gritty scenes – I didn’t expect to laugh as much as I did. Has Pomona invented a thrilled-comedy hybrid genre?
  •  Pomona is very surreal. The tentacle-headed man on the poster sort of gave that away, but even so I didn’t expect him/it to make an appearance in the play. Cthulu – a giant, malevolent octopus/man monster created by the writer HP Lovecraft – is referenced both as part of Charlie’s game, and in the form of Keaton wearing a mask and rolling dice. Besides the obvious link of evil doing, I’m still unsure as to why Cthulu appears so often in Pomona. Which brings me back to it being confusing.

So there you have it – Pomona is on at The Royal Exchange until 21st November – I’d definitely recommend that you check it out for yourself.

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