Set in a semi-dystopian version of Manchester’s underbelly Pomona is about a sister’s search for her sister. In a way, more or less and just about. With Pomona the plot is treated less as an essential asset and more as a house of mirrors style premise for elements of surreal, Lovecraftian and philosophical ideas to spin out leaving the audience to follow their own gazes into a carefully constructed abyss. Which is nice.
I’m hardly an expert on theatre, in fact my first thought on going is usually to find the bar and the cheapest thing to drink while bitching vaguely about how much it’s costing me. For Pomona though, once I’d secured the cheapest (very expensive) drink and stopped thinking about ticket prices I genuinely found something worthwhile.
I can’t really talk to the writer’s intent, Pomona being the sort of performance that really does make the audience put the effort in to get the most out of a non-linear and not particularly generous script. But they’ve achieved an openness which leaves plenty to gain if you put the attention in. Beyond the immediate story, which I won’t go into to avoid spoilers, there’s some properly meaty ideas involved which even if they’re not neatly packaged still offer a lot. Concepts which are grounded in Absurdism and Nihilism are spun out in irreverent pop culture references with Dungeons and Dragons book-ends, as well as copious amounts of jizz. Effective dressing for challenging the watcher to analyse their own notions of morality and integrity (© Camus).
The point, to me, wasn’t to assert any moral conclusions or expect guilt or empathy from the audience, although certain scenes dealing with violence (sexual and otherwise) did a neat job of delivering an emotional punch. Instead it was to challenge the personal relationship with meaning and morals, honing in on what it is to be moral in a universe which is deaf to the human drama.
Each character, be they victim or villain, is treated equally, none free of an awareness of their actions but none either forgiven or condemned for them in the absence of any judge in the process. Well, in the absence of any judge beyond a mysteriously God-like girl whose involvement was signified more by half detached questioning than any absolute judgements. A fact which left the onus on the audience to think their way out of the story presented and which was beautifully handled in the way that for all the extremes shown those core questions remained ones demanding answers – rather than ones already surrounded by their own emotively formed conclusions. Pomona leaves no escape from the personal exploration of how, why and whether a person can be truly moral. And more than that, whether there’s a coherent model of morality for a person to adopt.
I find it hard really to find any negatives in what I saw. Again not talking for the writer so much as my impression of Pomona I would say that while it’s obviously made for the stage there did seem to be an underlying desire to create something bigger. There were themes and characters, for example, which would have merited a full novel without suffering from over exposure. But then to offer more may perhaps have given the potential reader too much to work with, giving them an escape from the analysis necessary to explore a more stripped down stage play. As a film though that may have been less of an issue and the imagery even on stage was such that it could easily be translated into something grander and more immersive on screen without losing anything. In fact given the usual shite that passes for ‘intellectual’ or ‘philosophical’ film making for the most part it’d be great to see something like this, which really does have depth to it, given a shot as a feature.
In it’s attempt at creating extremes to highlight the philosophical discussion at the heart of Pomona though I’d say there’s the play’s one minor weakness. Given that it makes hefty use of Lovecraft’s mythos, right up to having a Cthulu mask on hand, it’s understandable that the nightmare world should be, well, nightmarish. But in presenting horror versions of it’s own darkest moments Pomona almost undoes it’s own attempts at presenting the extremes of human behaviour. Not throughout I should add, because there are moments, especially those around domestic violence, which are harshly human and immediate. Still though there are times where the shock horror nature of evil almost detach it from any real comprehension and lose the ability to challenge an audience by their excess. It’s a bit like alternating between A Serbian Film and Come and See in that you can recognise the intent in both but one becomes an almost hollow shock of cruelty while the other keeps characters and audiences trapped in the human reality of it.
That’s not a criticism that in any way detracts from the play though.
I’d still massively recommend Pomona to anyone who gets the chance to see it. Not just for the demands and ideas it’s infused with but also for the perfect staging and casting. There wasn’t a single actor that I saw who I could fault in their performance. It’s hard for me to analyse their efforts though, given my dumb ignorance about the theatre but honestly, they were brilliant and whatever praise I have should be evenly spread amongst them.
Anyway, Pomona is on at the National Theatre and you can get your tickets here. It’s in the big red box, temporary stage thing they’ve got up there and my ticket was £15. I did sit in the balcony with an apparently ‘restricted view’ but if you’re as cheap as I am let me reassure you that you won’t miss anything. In fact, to be honest, you’ll probably benefit from the vantage point given that the audience surrounds the central stage, so the performance goes in all directions.
And as everyone else seems to do ratings I’ll give Pomona 5/5.