Walking down the alley to Summerhall’s theatre, the eyes of Pomona’s protagonist bore into spectators searching for the theatre door as they unknowingly enter the dystopian world of Alistair McDowell’s unnerving play. Reimagined by director Tom Whiston, Pomona’s introductory unsettling atmosphere permeates the rest of the performance as Whiston delivers this appropriately disturbing and disjointed narrative.
Summerhall’s small lecture theatre serves as an ideal setting for the uncomfortable experience of the play; tired and claustrophobic, the encircled seating forces the audience into the immediacy of the oppressive drama for a stifling, 2 hour confinement. The minimalistic set allows for the projection of our protagonist Ollie’s imagination onto the stage as the drama follows the search for her sister that takes her into the deep darkness of Manchester. Pomona is an abandoned, eerie space in the heart of the city where power battles play out leading to hideous happenings.
Oliver Beaumont shocks the audience out of their nervous apprehension with his fast-paced opening dialogue as Zeppo, a humorous, non-stop Northerner whom Ollie searches out for help. The stream of comic chatter brings relief to the theatre’s cultivated tension through Beaumont’s expressive energy that is phenomenally delivered. The character of Charlie, a nerdy security guard, shares a similar lack of filter that translates into comic rambling performed by Tom Hindle, who absolutely captures the essence of an innocent Dungeons and Dragons fanatic lost in the power games of Pomona.
While this production excels from individuals of real talent, the variety of acting skill does underline the weaker actors of the cast. Abi Ahmadzadeh’s portrayal of the distressed prostitute, Fay, lacks the authenticity and grasp of believable emotion that others, such as Eilidh Northridge’s embodiment of Keaton, hone in on. Perhaps the most unfortunate example of this juxtaposition is in the consecutive phone calls of Fay and Gale. While Megan Lambie builds a believable, jarring climax on the phone, by contrast, Ahmadzadeh’s expression seems painfully feigned to the point of seeming uncomfortable on stage, which evidently lessens the impact and realism of the scene.
Fortunately, Flint’s choreography of intense, synchronised sequences to music rebuilds the frightening surrealism that is so infamous with McDowell’s production. A distorted game of Dungeons and Dragons transforms the stage into a game space where the characters, lit by torches, perform a robotic performance in unison that blurs reality and the imagination of Ollie in a disturbing fashion. Interspersed with frantic spasms that overwhelm Ollie, these scenes successfully intensify the drama of the play, whether it be in heightening the audience’s nauseating discomfort, or thrill.
An impactful production, Whiston’s team uses Summerhall’s space and lighting to create disturbing drama that, subjective to the audience’s excitement or displeasure, manages to curb the weaker performances within the cast and uphold McDowell’s surrealism.
Runs until 25th November
Photo Credit: Andrew Perry