Pomona (Red Stitch) – theatre review

Grim storytelling at its nasty best, the dystopian thriller Pomona set me back on my heels.

Ollie’s (Mona Mina Leon) sister has disappeared and she’s desperate to find her. But because her sister was involved in some shady goings-on, Ollie doesn’t want to call the police. Instead, she’s referred to a driver, Zeppo (Dion Mills), who circles the city – a man who knows a lot and keeps a neutral position. He’s a talker and tries to warn her off, knowing all too well that she won’t heed that advice. Zeppo also references a “no-go” zone – a concrete island in the middle of town where no good happens. It has one road in and out and is always guarded. Its name is Pomona.

Photo:Teresa Noble

Two of the guards are Moe (Arthur Angel), a man with a great propensity for violence, and Charlie (Nicholas Denton), naïve but with a sick fetish, who is unable to find another job because of his past. Gale (Julia Grace) runs a brothel in Pamona, but has something far more nefarious going on. Fay (Jessica Clarke) is one of her “girls” who has run away from an abusive husband, a cop. Fay meets Ollie’s sister (also played by Mona Mina Leon). She is clearly out of sorts, but her life is about to get a whole lot worse.

Then there’s loner Keaton (Artemis Ioannides), who is introduced to the younger of the guards, Charlie, who has placed an ad looking for those who are willing to play Dungeons the Dragons with him. Keaton is the only one who has ever come forward and she too is escaping from her real life.

Admittedly, as the play opens you wonder what’s going on, although you realise you’re dealing with desperation. Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that gradually fit together, the looped narrative arc in Pomona is revealed gradually. All the characters are entwined in a grimy underworld and what they are involved in is every bit as bad as you had imagined, probably more so. Huge plaudits to the writer, English playwright Alistair McDowall, for building the intrigue in such a surreptitious manner with frequent shocks. Pomona is filled with bold concepts and gutsy narrative. Make no mistake, it will polarise audiences. I happen to think it was amazing. Each of the characters is extremely well formed.

The acting is nothing short of sensational – all of it. The power is not only in the writing, but in the performances, led off by the look and feel of Dion Mills … in a portent of what is to follow. Mona Mina Leon hits the spot as Ollie and her sister. Jessica Clarke is able to extract vulnerability from her role as a reluctant hooker. In many ways though, it’s Arthur Angel and Nicholas Denton who make the piece as the unlikely combination security detail. They are both frightening in different ways.

Photo:Teresa Noble

All is set in Manchester, so the accents were critical (the dialogue coach is Matt Furlani). The menace in the production is palpable throughout, aided by the stage craft, the lighting (Lisa Mibus is lighting designer), sound (Kelly Ryall is composer) and sets. Jonathan Hindmarsh has excelled in the latter, crafting a claustrophobic underground “tomb”.

Brilliantly directed by Gary Abrahams, Pomona requires patience, concentration and a strong constitution to get the most out of. I regard it as masterful. It makes its Australian premiere at Red Stitch Theatre, where it will play until 11 August 2019.

Alex First

Other reviews you might enjoy: