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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Orange Tree Theatre   Autumn-Winter 2014

Alistair McDowall's new play is a rumination on evil, its pervasiveness, corrupting power and, above all, its unknowability. 

In a play about mystery, the playwright has not completely avoided the temptation toward mystification for its own sake, and some theatregoers may find the task of following him of simply keeping track of what's happening not worth the effort. 

A woman comes to Manchester in search of her missing sister. Clues point her and us to Pomona, a deserted spot in the city where, we are ultimately told, people may be being kidnapped for unspeakable medical practices of which organ harvesting is merely the least obscene. 

That may or may not be true, and anyway whatever it is that's going on at Pomona is just a McGuffin, a locus for the play's concept of pure evil. The horror at the centre of the play is so great that it can only be viewed obliquely and through symbols, and is so corrupting that it bends space and time. 

A game of Dungeons And Dragons being played at the periphery of the plot suggests a quest in which each advance just brings you to a new set of doorways to choose from, and some Rubik's Cubes imply that any search for order is likely to lead only to greater disorder. 

Meanwhile, scenes are presented out of chronological sequence, so that we have to piece together what has happened retroactively, characters seem to change personality from scene to scene, loose ends abound, and each time we think we have found the Bad Guy we learn of a Bigger Boss or shadowy They further up.

(It gets worse. A note buried at the end of the published text, and not otherwise available to the audience, announces that one of the performers has actually been playing two different characters in different scenes. And that implies that a couple of other performers, who I took to be playing two or three characters each, weren't, so I've had to rethink the entire play on the basis that they were each a single character throughout.) 

Neither director Ned Bennett nor a hard-working young cast seem able to bring much clarity to the proceedings or make the audience's job any easier if, indeed, they were trying to. 

You may respond to the puzzle aspect of the play, and even if you don't, the sense of a pervasive and inescapable Evil is chillingly presented. But Pomona goes too far in deliberately trying to be difficult for it to be much fun.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Pomona - Orange Tree Theatre 2014

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