Review: Pomona at The Royal Exchange Manchester
November 14, 2015
Pomona is a ‘hole’ in the city of Manchester between its centre and Salford Quays. Alastair McDowell’s obsession with this ‘hole’ is articulated in a new play currently showing at the Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester that takes Pomona as its focus and its title. By basing a fictive plot around an existent place in the city, the play traverses fiction and reality. A central theme of the play is this relationship between imagination and cold hard reality and our perception of the two.
Set in Manchester we follow seven different characters along their treacherous paths through the city. Their paths all crossing at Pomona. One in search for her lost sister, another in search of friends; these characters can’t avoid those using darker means in order to find what they are looking for. By the end of the play the audience is left still wondering what will become of the characters, their fate by no means decided.
In amongst the hard-hitting themes one character in particular provides moments of light relief and comedy. Charlie guards Pomona’s outskirts by night with his colleague Moe and watching this relationship stood out for us as a highlight in both acting and writing. However, Charlie’s real passion, RPGs (role playing games), offer humour as well as entirely new perspective on the production. This surreal subplot is what distorts the line between the naturalism of the setting and the dream like narrative and triggers the confusion surrounding what the audience can perceive as real or not. This seems to reflect McDowell’s conception of the world around him, as he explains in his interview with Andrew Hayden, published in the productions programme.
The piece is an all-engulfing sensory encounter as the audience are treated to an impressive array of sounds and visual effects. This aspect of the play calls to mind the immersive nature of a video game or graphic novel and gives a very unique 21st century feel overall. On top of this there is a high level of physicality coupled with dynamic use of the stage. This stamps a sense of urgency that relents only for a few sombre scenes. The high pace adds to the feeling that one is watching a play unbound by the shackles of conventional theatre and that instead we are locked into a dystopian fantasy. Or perhaps one of Charlie’s RPGs.