Review By Rosie Niven
They say art imitates life, so it’s no surprise to see the plethora of shows about a dystopian future that have flooded the Sydney stages over the past year. Kings Cross Theatre in particular seems to have a penchant for the post-apocalyptic wasteland, giving us in 2019 shows like Mercury Fur and A Girl in School Uniform (Walks into a Bar), works that place us right in the middle of the future we seem to be hurtling towards. Now they continue this theme with their first show of 2020: Alistair McDowall’s POMONA. But has the dystopian plot run its course?
POMONA is a nightmarish work set in an unforgiving city, and reminds us at every turn that the darkest parts of humanity are right at our doorstep. There’s a risk with a work like this that the audience will be sick of seeing their bleak future projected back to us again and again, but McDowall’s plot is electrifying and tackles notions of violence and misogyny in a way that captures the audience and plunges them into darkness. With every fractured scene we slip deeper into this corrupt city and closer to Pomona, a mysterious concrete island in its centre that’s locked and guarded and no one dares to go. But Ollie (Amanda McGregor) finds herself drifting closer to it as she searches for her sister, a sister she’s not even sure she has...
It’s a thickly layered plot, and one that requires a delicate hand to make sense to an audience. It’s here where the production loses strength - the cast (Kevin Batliwala, Monica Sayers, Lauren Richardson, Amanda McGregor, Dorje Michael Swallow, Jane Angharad, and James Smithers) seem to lose track under Director Anthony Skuse’s guidance, and vignettes feel powerless and misguided. Lack of projection from the majority of the ensemble makes what is clear, very hard to hear. The cast lacks the cohesion that comes from a well-rehearsed ensemble, meaning that conceptual and fractured scenes where all actors share the role of narrator feel stilted and hinder the plot. It’s a particularly challenging plot that would have definitely benefited from more rehearsal. Or even a greater understanding of the stakes of the world - scenes that should be harrowing and confronting don’t strike the audience as they should. Two particular actors break through this and guide the audience back to the story: McGregor as Ollie, and Richardson as Fay, women who have been abused by the system but won’t let it break them. Their performances are what keeps Pomona afloat.
Engaging as well are the Lighting and Sound Design of Pomona, expertly crafted by Veronique Bennett and Nate Edmondson. Bennett’s lights cut through the darkness and create harrowing images of partial truths, while Edmondson’s soundtrack subtly builds a creeping sense of dread.
Pomona is a work that tackles so many dark themes, but in this particular production, they don’t seem to trickle through to the audience. In a work filled with so much potential, this production of Pomona left me wanting much, much more.
Image Credit: Clare Hawley
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.