Sunday, 16 June 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Pomona - ALRA North Theatre, Wigan.


“Pomona” by Alistair McDowall is a taut, twisty contemporary thriller that is entirely unpredictable from start to finish. This revival was performed this evening by students of ALRA North, at their own theatre in Wigan.

With the theatre set in the round, director Chris Hallam made full use of the circular narrative and circular space to have the actors engaging in fraught circles of energy around each other. The stage was bare, save for the occasional couple of chairs, and enhanced only with Tom Sutcliffe’s austere lighting design and Dan Thomson’s pulsating, throbbing, electronic soundscapes. Designer Samantha Ackerley had a cracked ice image across the floor, and kept the cast in muted, utilitarian clothing regardless of their location and circumstance – though there was a cheeky seagull costume at one point for relief.

Ollie, played with intelligent intensity by Victoria Burrows, was a mysterious figure travelling all through the play on a quest: sometimes it seemed to be looking for a twin sister who had inexplicably vanished, and sometimes it appeared that she was that twin sister. Her journey led her to be taken on for work at a particular brothel, where she was shown the ropes by a jaded colleague, Gail (performed with sensitive earthiness by Taylor Arnold.) From there, she was sent on to a particular freeway, to be picked up by a particular truck driver called Zeppo (Ian Kay), who exploded with contrasting exuberance and cheerfulness as he took her towards the island of Pomona: a forgotten bit of land surrounded by two canals, but containing a very dark secret.

In parallel, two security guards called Charlie and Moe were whiling away their time. Charlie, as played by Jacob Butler, was compact and nervous and inclined to long descriptions of how he wanted to jizz on everything in the city. (Ian Kay’s lively seagull matched him with a stated ambition to crap on everything in the city.) Moe, performed with steadfast solidness by Joe Rowberry, had the unenviable job of keeping him in line. Sometimes they were visited by the unspecified authority figure of Fay, played with ice-cold ruthlessness by Jess Woodward, and at times the excellent and very realistic fight direction of Kenan Ali was utilised.

In his spare time, Charlie set up a 'Dungeons and Dragons' club using his own games based on H. P. Lovecraft’s horror fantasy world of Cthulhu Mythos stories. (It’s to my shame that I actually got all the references in this part…… ) After four weeks, his club got its first participant, the almost monosyllabic Keaton (Maddie Troup was exceptionally good in what she did with this character). For extra atmosphere, Charlie had a fondness for wearing a ridiculous rubber Cthulhu mask, making him look a bit like a mutant octopus, and bringing a touch of comedy to the narrative.

As the various strands of the different narratives came together, Hallam’s direction was sure and controlled: bringing together a swirling mix of spinning Rubik’s Cubes, rolling Dungeons and Dragons dice, and franticly urgent characters, with the rubber Cthulhu mask taking on more significance as the truly Lovecraftian nature of the conclusion was revealed.

ALRA North is committed to working with the best in contemporary dramatic writing from both Britain and overseas, and this evening’s production was a particularly gripping example.

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore
on - 14 /6/19

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