Pomona

Alistair McDowall
Orange Tree Theatre
National Theatre’s Temporary Theatre

Pomona

Alistair McDowall and his director Ned Bennett appear to have set themselves the task of creating a completely new kind of theatre. Rather than telling linear stories, they attempt to mirror the experience of those addicted to role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons.

There’s nothing new under the sun and what is not quite the same; Tim Price’s Teh Internet Is Serious Business tried to do the same for computer games and Internet surfing more widely.

Pomona, which first saw the light of day as the first new work after Paul Miller took over as artistic director at the Orange Tree in Richmond, is still unlike any play that most readers will ever have seen, though it may bring to mind the work of Philip Ridley at his most esoteric.

There is no question that it more closely resembles a fantasy game of the kind loved by adults who have never quite grown up than a standard theatre piece.

For much of the 1¾ hours, slivers of stories follow each other around in circles and repeat, ensuring that meaning is at best elusive and at worst not even that.

The in-the-round staging features a concrete square with a symbolically hexagonal drain at its centre. This transforms into a number of locations in terrifying Pomona, a (genuine) derelict island in Central Manchester.

This is where über-dice are thrown to determine life or death decisions, overseen by Guy Rhys as the Zeppo, a rich man in dirty underwear and a parka, assisted by a woman wearing an octopus head inspired by H P Lovecraft’s Cthulhu.

This pair seemingly controls and directs the fates of a collection of unhappy people. These include a security guard and his murderous pal, a battered wife turned into a prostitute (Rebecca Humphries), her colleague who is escaping some murderous acquaintance and the sister who searches for her (both played by Nadia Clifford).

Whenever someone seems to be close to finding or revealing truth, Alistair McDowell ensures that they move off stage or away from solutions, leaving mystery wrapped up in mystery during an evening that deliberately makes less sense than traditional theatre-goers might hope for.

Its appeal is therefore likely to lie largely with those who are into unsolved mysteries as well as addicts of those ever-popular role playing games.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher