BWW REVIEW: POMONA Presents A Dark Twisted Dystopian Future That Is Frighteningly Plausible
Thursday 30th January 2020, 7:30pm, KXT Kings Cross
Alistair McDowall blurs the lines of truth and fiction, reality and imagination, real life and games in his dystopian thriller POMONA. Anthony Skuse directs a captivating expression of this dark woven tale that forces the viewer to consider what is happening to the world and how far off a world of accepting what we'd now consider abhorrent it really is.
Drawing inspiration and it's title from the forgotten wasteland that is Pomona Island, a strip of land on the River Irwell that once housed the Royal Pomona Palace and gardens and later the southern docks of the Manchester Ship Canal, situated just minutes from the center of Manchester, this is a story that like the M60 ring road around the same city, has no definitive end. Zeppo (Dorje Swallow), a 20 something property mogul who apparently owns much of Manchester holds meetings in his car as he circles city on the M60 while munching on McNuggets and recounting sci-fi movie plots with a Rubik's cube solving Cthulhu masked person (Jane Angharad) in the back seat. Moe (James Smithers) a man with violence issues and the meek and nerdy Charlie (Kevin Batliwala) and act as security guards to the one gate into the mysterious Pomona on the condition that they don't ask questions about the trucks that go in and out. Charlie likes to retreat into his world of games, whether it be Pokemon or his own invented role play game which the seemingly quiet and harmless Keaton (Jane Angharad) responds to his advertisement to come play. Veteran prostitute Fay (Lauren Richardson) tries to look out for new recruit Ollie (Amanda McGregor), a young woman who may or may not have a sister who she is looking for, while living in fear of the brothel madam Gale (Monica Sayers) who has Moe and Charlie on speed dial but is also terrified of Keaton.
While the current Pomona has turned into a disused greenspace with all manner of vegetation fighting its way out of the ruins of its past, the design of Skuse and James Smithers (joint Production Design) Pomona is stark hard edges with a central focus of a large drainage grate. A black tiled wall holds an old rotary pay phone and a small medical locker and a bench seat. The characters generally have a shabbiness about them as if most of the players in the story have not been able to benefit from the commercialism of society except for Keaton who drips with Jewels.
McDowall's storyline isn't linear but as the 90 minutes or so progress the puzzle pieces of the scenes start to fall into place. While one would hope it was just a piece of imagination, as with the realness of the setting, the stories within are all anchored in reality making POMONA all the more frightening as it probably wouldn't take much for it to become reality, particularly if we continue to accept the "Selective Education" that Zeppo describes as his choice not to ask questions if the possibility of knowing the truth behind something will ruin the enjoyment of the thing. For Zeppo, it's the nuggets he keeps shoving into his mouth and the property deals he keeps making with tenants who are more than likely to be unethical and unsavory but for wider society, it's where do the clothes we wear, food we eat, and so much more, come from.
Skuse has a strong cast that capture the sinister world where anything and everything can be bought, for a price. He ensures that each character has a degree of humanity and understanding of that the what they've been forced to do to survive is not right. Of note is Amanda McGregor as Ollie as she retains a continued air of innocence destroyed as she is pulled deeper and deeper into Pomona. Also, Lauren Richardson as Fay presents a world-weary working girl who is just trying to stay alive and as safe as possible in an unsafe situation whilst also having the compassion to try to look out for Ollie even when the newcomer disregards her warnings. Kevin Batliwala captures the juvenile spirit of Charlie, a kid that would prefer to be playing games than doing a job that he rightly suspects is unethical.
POMONA is captivating and intriguing, if not somewhat unsettling as an expression of a world no one really wants to live in but in reality could easily happen if people don't stand up and prevent it. Artfully presented with more twists and turns than an Escher staircase in a grown up form of the circle of life.
Photos: Clare Hawley