Pomona at Red Stitch Theatre
There’s a secret place right inside the concrete heart of the city. Pomona. Nobody knows what’s in there, it’s like a place time forgot. But every day a delivery van arrives and departs. What’s going on in there? Do you really want to know? Or do you simply have no choice?
Alistair McDowall’s dark and genre rich horror story is gripping from start to finish. A powerful modern thriller that asks what lies beneath the veneer of contemporary civilisation and what price must you pay to find it. Rosie spoke to performer Mona Mina Leon about what brought her to Red Stitch Ensemble and why we should break the rules in theatre. Read the full interview below:
Mona Mina Leon
You’ve performed at multiple venues across the world, from the Netherlands to London. What brought you to Sydney, and why was Red Stitch the next step for you in your career?
I came to Australia because of an Aussie. We met after my first year of acting school, when I was travelling with my friend in Cuba. Now, three years later I’m graduated and I said to myself: “What is there to lose?” I remember being very nervous about leaving Belgium. Some people were trying to warn me about how it could harm my career if I didn’t get to work immediately after graduating. I was very worried that I wouldn’t be able to act here because of my accent and things like that, but I promised myself to give it a go and I pushed myself to meet people who are in the theatre scene here. I sent out my resume to at least twenty agencies in the first week I arrived but without much success. A friend told me about the graduate position at Red Stitch. She organized me an audition and I translated a monologue from one of my favorite Belgian writers (Peter De Graef). I tried not to get too excited because I heard a lot of people audition for the position. When I heard I got it, I could barely believe it. I love Red Stitch. I felt very welcome and the company has been so kind and supportive. I love the initiatives they take, like the INK program. I love their passion and their openness. And what I love most about Red Stitch is their unstoppable urge to reinvent themselves, they never get comfortable and lazy. They’re always searching for new interesting work, they’re curious and they don’t play it safe which takes bravery in today’s times.
You recently joined the Red Stitch Ensemble as one of their Graduate Actors this year. How do you feel this program has helped you develop as an actor, and assisted in the transition from a training institution to working in the industry?
Theatre in Australia is very different from theatre in Flanders. Particularly the way people treat a script. Where I’m from we change stuff all the time, get rid of pieces text, write parts ourselves. It’s very eclectic. Sometimes we even end up not using the text at all but only the title. Here, a script is very respected. Every comma, every dash, even stage directions are respected. That was mind-blowing to me. The other big difference was communication. Everybody is very polite and politically correct. In theatre where I come from, people speak very firmly and straight forward, but then later change their opinions and that’s fine. We talk, then think and correct as we go. People don’t take words to the heart as much. We would label it as ‘passionate’. There’s more space for trial and error. In the beginning I struggled a bit to understand what people meant because the language that is used here is a lot less straight forward, I needed some time to feel free with this different approach but eventually it served me as well. Because you need to work hard, you can’t just get rid of things you find difficult or uninteresting at first. It pushes you to look further and work thoroughly. The transition from training institution to the industry was gradual, because I did two internships and during our schooling we perform for an audience as well. The biggest change was to work in a second language, which was pretty exhausting in the beginning because you need to get used to expressing yourself and all the jargon, it takes a bit of time for your brain to adapt. Oh and reviewers! That was also exciting and new!
What about the story of Pomona attracted you to the script? Why did you feel this was a story that needed to be told in 2019?
It’s very dark, it’s very fatalistic but at the same time incredibly funny. It touches on some horrifying themes but at the same time there is humour so you can catch your breath again. And I feel like that’s an important aspect about the play, it’s not just ‘kommer en kwel’ (doom and gloom). If things are dark and dark only, I get a bit repelled by them because I think we need more than that. We need poetry and humour to console us. Because the world is not just black or white, it’s both, it’s an endless paradox. People murder other people, rape, war, tears, blood and at the same time there’s also Monty Python’s and the ministry of silly walks, that makes you cry with laughter. It’s all happening on the same planet. I think theatre and film can reflect this simultaneously, comedy and tragedy. But it’s also up to you as a person to keep on seeing the light through the cracks.
Pomona’s playwright Alistair McDowall was once quoted as saying, “there are no rules in theatre - you can do anything. Whatever rules there are, you can break them - immediately if you want to.” How does Pomona adhere to or defy this quote?
I think it shows the most in all the subjects that he writes about. In normal everyday life, we try not to think about stuff like that and just carry on with the day. In Pomona you’re forced to think about these things again and remind yourself that it is actually happening and not just a scary bedtime story. It challenges your sanity and morality; it pulls the rug out from under your feet. So in that way he (and good theatre) breaks the convention of everyday life. We get to process things and talk about things we avoid in everyday life. Difficult matters.
When people come and see Pomona, and what can they expect from this particular production?
People should come and see the show because it’s different and challenging. My fellow actors are fantastic actors and it is exhilarating to get to see them work. The scenery, staging, lighting and sound are all top-notch. But if you’re sensitive when it comes to violence or feel like watching a romcom, I would probably recommend going to another show.
What do you as an artist hope to achieve with this work?
I hope people are fascinated and overwhelmed by the story. And most of all, I hope it will lure people in who normally won’t go to theatre, or think theatre is for some kind of elite class. I think that’s the biggest misconception and challenge in theatre today. It’s from people for people, not elite to elite. You never hear someone say: ”I can’t really have an opinion about this film because I’m not a cineast”, but people say it about theatre all the time and that feels so wrong. I want to know your opinion and I want to know what affected you or why you weren’t. There, no right or wrong.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you have ever seen?
Gavrilo Princip - De Warme Winkel, Alice - Abattoir Ferme, Priemgeval - Theater Artemis
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
I hate flying but to Lisbon, probably! My friends are on holiday there. Without me, meh!
Dream show to perform in?
Not a particular one, I just hope that I can play challenging female roles throughout my career. Not just the innocent girl, sex worker, sex bomb, someone’s girlfriend, sister or mom. And I’m optimistic about it, I think the fact that women also struggle with big philosophical and ethical questions and not just worry about cakes and men, will start to get generally acknowledged. Films like The Favourite (by Yorgos Lanthimos) and see those female characters make me extremely excited!
Oh Harry Potter and fantasy as well though!!! I would love to be in a fantasy film or play!
Plays or musicals?
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
What’s next for you after this show?
I’m going back to Belgium to play with abattoir ferme. One of my favourite theatre companies in Belgium. Stef Lernous (director and AD) writes a lot of the plays himself and his
imagination is mind blowing.
Pomona runs until August 11 at the Red Stitch Actors' Theatre. You can get your tickets here.