Cruelty free

Cruelty free

29 March 2018

Pomona is stony-eyed but not nearly scary enough, says Ava Davies

“Everything bad is real.”

Pomona is one of my favourite plays. That’s unoriginal. I mean. Everyone loves it. It feels like every university theatre company has put on Pomona in the past two years. Because it’s not just any play. It’s a cool play. And it’s not just a cool play, it’s a likeable play. An accessible play. It’s not weird performance art but it’s also not David Hare. It’s non-linear, but it’s solvable. It’s clever but not too clever. It’s a perfectly formed, perfectly structured piece.

Pomona is a concrete island in the middle of Manchester, surrounded by a ring road. People go in but they don’t come out. Set designer Beth Wilson contains the violence onstage to the confines of a square, marked out by yellow tape that reads “CRIME SCENE DO NOT ENTER”. It’s on the nose, but effective. But the tape can’t hold the violence; it spills out, seeps out of its confines. These characters aren’t safe, even when they’re out of their boxing ring. They huddle, isolated and stony-eyed, as the narrative flits back and forth, up and down.

Nottingham New Theatre’s production is good. The performances are strong, if possibly a little underdrawn, particularly in the case of Jonny Khan’s Charlie and Kate O’Gorman’s Keaton. But I’m not sure if I can say that it’s definitively great because I don’t know how much of that is down to the play and not the production. There is this violence inherent to the text that simmers, and I’m not sure how violent this production felt. The movement sequences that book end each scene feel impotent. It’s strange. Because it’s physical theatre, it’s supposed to be all about the body, about physicality and actual, serious, proper touch, and because so much of Pomona is taken up with the body – the body as a sexual object, as a scarred object, as transactional material – it should be a natural fit, but these sections felt soft, and limp, and pulled us away from the paciness of it all.

There are some beautiful moments of direction from Maddy Strauss, with the cast handing each other props as needed from outside the tape square suggests the complicity inherent in ruthless capitalist society. And that is what the play is about, I think. Pomona and Brilliant Adventures are about how capitalism takes the most vulnerable in society and guts them, squeezes them for every drop they’re worth, then discards them. They’re about how bodies are disposable, tools for transaction and nothing more. That’s never been entirely clear to me before, when simply reading it, and Strauss’ direction should be praised for its clarity of vision. But I wanted more chaos, more violence. I wasn’t afraid of this world and I needed to be.

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Photo credit: Aenne Pallasca