This play is a presentation of a nightmare. Those of you aware that Pomona was the Roman Goddess of fruit will find that her name is used ironically.
‘Pomona’ here designates a commercial and industrial area in the centre of Manchester, all concrete and aridity. It is owned by a fast-talking embodiment of hostility and disillusionment called Zeppo. (I cannot see that the echo of the Marx Brothers is intentional. But I could of course be wrong.)
Zeppo, it appears, owns the whole of the area and is consequently very rich. He is also thoroughly disillusioned, in ways that vary between angry resignation and violent scorn. He never visits any of the businesses whose premises he owns. He merely pockets a large slice of the profits. Perhaps, he reflects, he should redistribute the enormous wealth he has acquired. No one holds their breath waiting for him to do so.
But what would be the point? There is nobody around who would use it to do anything useful.
In this, Zeppo shows that he is as overwhelmed by the corruptions inherent in his way of life as everybody else in sight. He certainly embraces no philosophical, let alone religious view that might help him recover his self-esteem (assuming he ever had any).
Pomona, however busy and prosperous it may be during the day, is by night an arid wasteland. The fluorescent lights flicker from time to time in jerky sympathy.
Into this wasteland, having found that all roads in the city lead there, wanders Ollie, searching for her sister who has gone missing. She doesn’t want to go to the police because she thinks her sister may have done something bad.
I can see that Alistair McDowall is a playwright to keep tabs on. I can’t, however, quite see why this play is so exclusively negative. The world it shows is out to destroy us all, and we are apparently helpless. As the blurb on the published script tells us, in Pomona,‘at the centre of everything, journeys end and nightmares are born.’
Early in the play one character remarks ‘I think I’d sleep a lot easier if I knew none of us would wake up tomorrow.’ In context this manages to express weariness and resignation while being wittily praised.
In that it typifies much of what makes this evening to challenging to decipher
I hope I don’t sound too much like those club land denizens who tottered out of the first night of Look Back in Anger spluttering ‘Gad, Sir, the fellow’s a beast and a cad. Where is the humour, where is the human feeling..?’ and so on.
For that very reason I have to say that if you are interested in what might happen in theatre in the next few decades then you will have to see this play. Both the writing and the production have enormous energy and there are quite a few laughs to be had. It’s a bit as if Private Frazer were to appear, shouting ‘Ye’re all doomed’ in the most hopeless moments of the last act of King Lear.
The performances have tremendous energy and vim. This, and in particular, the pace at which some of the words are delivered may make life difficult for some elderly patrons.
Alistair McDowall, has alluded, at least by implication to much of what is most corrupt and depressing in present-day society. What is perhaps missing is any sense of how the situation portrayed could be ameliorated. We have to change––but how do we do it and in what direction should we move?
He would probably say that he is not preaching a sermon but writing a play.
He believes that there are no rules in drama. You don’t have to write a ‘well-made play’. Your only obligation is to throw down a gauntlet.
This he has done––and if I want solutions I can always do a crossword puzzle.
- By Alistair McDowall
- Directed by Ned Bennett
- Cast includes: Nadia Clifford, Rebecca Humphries, Sarah Middleton, Sean Rigby, Sean Rigby
- Orange Tree Theatre, London
- Until 13 December 2014
- Review by Tom Aitken
- 14 November 2014