Review: Pomona, Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre (VIC)

Arjun Rajkhowa

Gary Abraham’s production brings alive a mesmerising and thrilling Mancunian urban dystopia.
Review: Pomona, Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre (VIC)

Dion Mills, Mona Mina Leon, Jessica Clarke and Julia Grace in Pomona. Photo: Teresa Noble.

The Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre’s production of Pomona, written by British playwright Alistair McDowall, is a dystopian tour de force. The actors’ riveting and forceful performances, the meticulously constructed sets that authentically represent urban decay, and the immersive lighting and suspenseful music all add up to a must-watch experience. This is a perfectly paced and flawless enactment of a phantasmagorical play that transports the viewer to an underbelly that seems simultaneously foreign and so universally recognisable.

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Pomona Island in Manchester is a former industrial site that is now a wasteland. Pomona transforms this site into a place of nightmares, crime, persecution and fantasy. This play explores the theme of urban decrepitude, and depicts an underbelly that is grotesque and horrifying. Yet some of the characters who people this underbelly are humorous, helpful and protective of one another. The play blends funny and frightful elements extremely well, and there is both bathos and poignancy in the narrative.

Arthur Angel – as Moe, a local tough guy who serves as a henchman and enforcer, but who has a soft and protective side – subtly conveys the vulnerability and diffidence of his brooding character. Nicholas Denton is the lynchpin of the production as Charlie, Moe’s imaginative, naïve and eccentric sidekick, whose unabashed disclosures about his (uncanny) erotic fantasies flummox his partner in crime. Denton conveys the naiveté, predilection for fantasy and moral courage of his character with élan.

Jessica Clarke plays the determined and compassionate Fay, a sex worker who has escaped a violent home life and now become entangled with the Pomona underworld. Clarke brings an edginess to her character that really enhances the effect of the palpable fear that dogs her as she tries to escape the depredations of her controllers. Julia Grace – as Gale, one of the controllers – brings great aggression and effervescence to her role.

Artemis Ioannides – as Keaton, a surly and seemingly adrift young woman who is revealed to have an important role in the underworld – captures her character’s sullen insouciance brilliantly. Dion Mills has perfect comic timing as Zeppo and lightens the mood of an otherwise dark fantasy. And Mona Mina Leon conveys helplessness and confusion ably as Ollie, who gets trapped in this dangerous world.

Gary Abrahams has directed a taut and fast-paced play, seamlessly melding asynchronous segments into an uninterrupted whole. The transitions between storylines and scenes is handled superbly and flawlessly by the actors, who don’t miss a beat. The play’s structure brings two (three, at most) characters to the fore in each scene, with the others unobtrusively blending into the background; the actors handle the oscillation between animation and dormancy very skilfully. The narrative links between the scenes and the ostensible chronological order of events are revealed progressively, with the concept of looping time playing a key role in the narrative.

The other remarkable thing about this production is the actors’ authentic use of the Mancunian accent. Matt Furlani’s work as the accent coach on this production is distinguished by the actors’ seemingly effortless vocal delivery. They flawlessly deliver a complex and sometimes difficult script.

The venue itself has a great ambience, and its genial atmosphere stands perfectly in antithesis to the setting of the play.

5 stars out of 5 ★★★★★

Pomona
Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre
By Alistair McDowall
Cast: Arthur Angel, Jessica Clarke, Nicholas Denton, Julia Grace, Artemis Ioannides, Mona Mina Leon, Dion Mills
Director: Gary Abrahams
Set/costume designer: Jonathan Hindmarsh
14 July-11 August 2019
Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, St. Kilda East
Tickets $29-55

About the author

Arjun Rajkhowa is a Melbourne-based writer and academic.