A story steeped in despair with just a smidge of light strobing through the cracks, it’s no wonder Alistair McDowall’s script for Pomona tracks through the imagery of HP Lovecraft without bothering to wipe its feet when it’s done.
It’s woven in excellently, really. McDowall’s script and Gary Abraham’s direction turning this damp, rough corner of Manchester into a perfect distillation of what Alan Moore describes as Lovecraft’s Existential estrangement.
Things are over described and not tucked away: Most of the actors sit visibly in the ‘wings’ of the set, both in and out of scenes going on in front of them; pieces of set and props can be shuffled on and off, but not tidied away; scenes themselves aren’t non-linear as such, but shuffled around not unlike a Rubik’s Cube or feel left to chance like the roll of a dice.
The design elements are tremendous here, even stretching out beyond space. Once the audience are called in to take their seats, what is typically an unassuming corridor is now a dense, smoke-filled corridor to somewhere… other. As happy accidents go, this leaking side effect of the smoke machine starts the gentle work of immersing the audience in Pomona before we’ve seen or heard any of it.
Jonathan Hindmarsh’s set and costume design were respectively brutal and arresting, Lisa Mibus’ lights were sometimes harsh, sometimes bleak and sometimes alien, and all fantastic. Kelly Ryall’s sound was effective and terrifying.
It’s sci-fi, but the territory it explores is inner space, not outer, like a JG Ballard novel adapted for the stage. It’s a tightly written and performed piece, yet we get these small charming moments that exist, swirling eddies alongside the stronger, surging current of the main story.
Dion Mills gives his usual committed and brilliant performance in multiple roles, as does Mona Mina Leon in her own double-turn of sorts. Mona has a fine control of where her characters are in time and place, drawing these non-linear fragments together to make a compelling whole.
Arthur Angel and Nicholas Denton wonderfully play a pair of tragics, Moe and Charlie – wrung out Del Boy and Rodney types who despite their dark surroundings retain some semblance of empathy. Jessica Clarke playing Fay and Artemis Ionnides playing Keaton, both give terrific performances, while Julia Grace was incendiary as Gale.
If you prefer your theatre grim and beautiful at the same time, get to it.
Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel Street, St Kilda East
Performance: Sunday 14 July 2019 – 6.00pm
Season continues to 11 August 2019
Information and Bookings: www.redstitch.net
Image: Arthur Angel, Dion Mills, Mona Mina Leon, Julia Grace, Artemis Ioannides and Jessica Clarke feature in Pomona – photo by Teresa Noble
Review: David Collins