Fresh from a run at the National Theatre, Pomona slides North to its rightful resting place at Manchester’s Royal Exchange. Described in a recent Guardian article as ‘the grassy Limbo’ between Salford and Manchester and popularly known as ‘the lost island of Manchester’, the abandoned isle a couple of miles shy of the city centre is an inspired location for this slippery dystopian thriller by Alistair McDowell.
Opening with an impassioned exposition of Raiders of the Lost Ark, followed seamlessly by an enigmatically unhinged pitch on the virtues of daily consumption of bulk bought chicken nuggets, the cold, steel framework of the Royal Exchange only adds to the feeling that the next hundred minutes are going to be, at the very least, jarring. The inaugural monologue is sassily popped out by Zeppo, exuding slick charisma whilst munching mcnuggets and clad in grubby underwear and a parka, the fact that McDonalds survives for his enjoyment whilst civilisation self-destructs is bleakly tongue-in-cheek. Seeking her lost sister in the squalid wasteland is Ollie, Zeppo’s listener, and between them, an unacknowledged, dice rolling tentacled figure. Zeppo points Ollie towards Pomona with a disclaimer that it’s unlikely to end well, and the story begins.
The mark is set for a portrait of humanity at its brink, of squalor, disease and finding surreal humour in the darkest of places. Pomona unfortunately just doesn’t quite hit it. The disjointed components of the fragmented plot fail to catch enough interest to warrant elucidation whilst intermittent injections of puerile humour feel like cheap shots at forcing a laugh. Strong performances confirm a coherent thread of humanity amid apocalyptic chaos, but it is these alone which prevent the show from dissolving into incoherent ramble.
Whilst it’s clear that you’re not supposed to ‘get it’, and there are far more questions than answers (‘did Ollie even have a sister?’, ‘who/what is Keaton?’ ‘does Zeppo get involved more than he claims?’), these are unfortunately not questions that cross your mind once you’ve got a pint in your hand five minutes later. There’s an argument that the all-encompassing ambiguity unsettlingly masks deeper more disturbing truths, but it’s unfortunately not a protest that feels important enough to spare a thought for once the lights have gone up. First-rate performances and a strikingly fitting venue prop up an ambitious production that entertains in part but fails to wow. 2/5