Pomona at the National
Following a successful run at Richmond’s Orange Tree theatre, Alistair McDowall’s latest play, Pomona, brings its bold, dystopian surrealism to the National Theatre.
The play’s premise is outlined in an early monologue by the charismatic, swaggering Zeppo (Guy Rhys) and seems to be this: everybody is inescapably entangled in a web of exploitation. McDowall uses symbolism borrowed from pop culture – many-sided dice and a Cthulhu mask – to illustrate the concept of freedom of choice. There’s no existential posing to be found here, however, as highbrow and lowbrow are smashed merrily together, with humorous Indiana Jones references rubbing alongside exquisitely choreographed, dance-like chase scenes.
McDowall has cited Churchill and Beckett as dramatic influences, so it comes as little surprise that the 28-year-old has no qualms about the employment of a non-linear narrative, nor his expectation that the audience use their own judgement about the morality of the characters’ actions.
Even before the play itself opens, the theatre-in-the-round set stirs an undercurrent of uneasy complicity in the impending violence. Audience members stare across at each other in smoky half-darkness as an industrial “fan” thunders overhead. Filmic slow-mo fights and Georgia Lowe’s gritty set design play to Pomona’s pop culture elements, while McDowall’s unique blend of realism and symbolism speaks to the open-mindedness of a generation raised on the cultural detritus of the late twentieth century. The merits of such a broad approach are most obvious at the play’s climax, where traditional storytelling complements the stylised action, while the actions emphasise parts of the monologue in turn.
The acting is very good, with standout performances from Rebecca Humphries who gives her character, beleaguered prostitute Fay, a convincing blend of vulnerability and dogged strength. Sam Swann is also memorable as socially awkward games nerd Charlie, playing the character’s naïveté for moments of genuine humour throughout.
The appeal of Pomona relies heavily on a tolerance for genre-blending and a sensitivity to the touching moments of human connection within a deliberately alienating structure. Personal preference aside, there is no denying the careful craftsmanship that has gone into drawing such a diversity of influences into a uniquely engaging production.
J A Clarke
Photo: Richard Davenport
Pomona is on at the National Theatre from 10th September until 10th October 2015, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Pomona here: