Alistair McDowall’s alternate version of Manchester is part game, part gritty crime drama, and part sci-fi thriller as the characters navigate their shifting and unreliable narratives. Pomona and The Girl are only myths until they become reality for those that choose to get involved.
McDowall’s script is non-linear, regularly turning back on itself and referencing the construction of story-telling with Crimp-esque instructional scenes mimicking the structure of role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. Recognisable reality markers like Manchester and McDonald’s exist on the fringe of the central mystery: a desolate place called Pomona where horrific things may or may not happen depending on how much you want to know.
Direction from Anthony Skuse capitalises on the unstable narrative with an amped-up dis-ease and tension. The violence, whether depicted or described, is unrelenting, making the atmosphere of the production heavy and, at times, exhausting to wade through. Moments of lightness, particularly from blissfully ignorant Charlie (Kevin Batliwala), feel removed from the action and struggle to generate relief. Set design from Skuse and James Smithers with sloping textured black floor panels is brutal and accomodating of the script’s many locations. Lighting design by Veronique Benett and sound design from Nate Edmondson evoke sci-fi elements with multi-colour beams and an atmospheric score incorporating drones and electronic beeping.
Amanda McGregor is brittle in her depiction of a woman searching for a sister she feels sure she might have while also falling victim to the dark organisations operating in this dystopian world. Against Lauren Richardson’s resilient Fay, McGregor represents an alternate humanity beaten down by neglect and systemic abuse. The two balance a hard and soft dynamic that grounds the production with an emotive sensitivity. At the same time Smithers offers a complicated energy in the violent and self-aware Moe who remains enigmatic after the story’s close.
With the parallel imaginative game narrative of HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu cult successfully raising the cosmic god, Pomona imagines a world where the cruelest and most evil prosper and commit heinous acts under the general public’s wilful ignorance. In this world, it’s less about the plot’s believability and more about watching the story play out in all its brutal glory.
Pomona is running at Kings Cross Theatre from January 24th – February 8th