Reviewing the National Theatre production of Pomona in 2015, Matt Trueman likened Alistair McDowall’s structure to a Möbius strip. This metaphor perfectly captures the continuous form, at once straight road and loop, always undermining conceptions of reality and fiction, with a shifting, ambiguous chronology. Themes of circularity, futility and choice run through many of the play’s interactions and one-sided ‘conversations’, underlining the danger of ‘getting involved’, a trope explored through reference to Indiana Jones and a box of McDonald’s chicken nuggets as well as the mysterious criminal network central to plot.
The jumbled chronology is made digestible in this direct, compelling production which creates an ambience to convey the plot and unsettle the audience without over-complication. Emily Pullen’s minimal block-based set neatly delineates the bare stage and is moved around in some very slick, well-rehearsed scene changes, locked-in with precise lighting and sound cues. Jonny Danciger does a masterful job with his green-tinged lighting and rumbling sound design, which heighten the uneasy atmosphere, whilst still allowing the audience space to digest the drama on their own terms. The direction team of Lucy Hayes and Finlay Stroud works cleverly on the disconnect between fiction and reality, with powerful extremes of movement on the stage. Much of the blocking is necessarily static, but the forward-thrusting energy rarely slips and the full-company RPG realisations are tight and well-thought-out. The cast works very cohesively as a company in these scenes and, amongst the challenging, rapid narration shared between them, the very few slips-ups on lines or timing were almost unnoticeable.
Joe Peden instills the drama with gripping energy right from the off with a brilliantly-paced monologue, and his virtuosic depiction of an apathetic seagull must also be commended. The damaged, resigned Fay is impressively portrayed by Miranda Collins, working well with India Phillips, who particularly comes into her own as her character becomes more distressed later in the play. Lucy Miles’s shifting power-dynamics are convincing as her dominance suddenly topples under the powerful stillness of Fran Amewudah-Rivers, who plays Keaton with expertly-controlled intensity. James Tibbles and Hugo McPherson form a great double-act, with impeccable comic timing and a well-judged polarisation of the two ‘security guards’, Charlie and Moe, drawn together by their desires for ignorance.
Sitting in the middle of the main bank of seating, Pomona was an engrossing experience. It would seem, however, that those sitting in the smaller areas of seating down the sides missed out on many of the effects designed for a front-facing stage, so it would be advisable to arrive early and secure a central seat.
Without a weak link in the cast, this was a moving and engaging performance, while very strong design and tech bring Pomona beyond the level of most student drama on the production level.