Roll Play: Gamers Dice With Death

Pomona, National Theatre ★★★★☆

Neil Dowden
By Neil Dowden Last edited 31 months ago
Roll Play: Gamers Dice With Death Pomona, National Theatre 4
Photo by Richard Davenport

Having received rave reviews at the Orange Tree at the end of last year, Alistair McDowell’s brilliantly imaginative dystopian thriller Pomona has now transferred to the National Theatre’s ‘temporary theatre’.

A cleverly constructed and slickly staged psycho-drama for the digital age, it plays with the audience’s expectations as the narrative loops around self-reflexively so that we’re not sure what is present or past, fantasy or reality. It seems that any dark visions of the mind can become horrifyingly concrete in this urban twilight zone.

A young woman searching for her missing twin sister seeks the help of a shady property owner. He tells her that she may have been sucked into Pomona, a concrete island that is the mysterious black hole at the centre of the city, with only one entrance and exit, about which sinister rumours abound. (The parallel Pomona is an actual isolated wasteland in the middle of Manchester.) But perhaps this nightmare scenario is a virtual world constructed by misfit gamers unable to form meaningful relationships in their own hostile environment?

With disorientating lurches and sleazy humour, McDowell takes us on a nightmarish journey involving social alienation, sexual violence, enforced surrogacy and organ transplants, set within a context of a Dungeons and Dragons-like quest that leads into the heart of darkness. Pomona may be yet another magical realist twist on storytelling but it sure is a pulsating ride.

Ned Bennett’s suspenseful, in-the-round production turns the play into a live-action role-playing game with characters throwing dice to determine their next move, while designer Georgia Lowe’s circular arena becomes the playing board with a central drain down which blood swills. The flickering neon strip lighting of Elliot Griggs and menacing electronic score and urban sound effects of Giles Thomas add much to the unsettling atmosphere.

Sam Swann is a comically nerdy fantasist and Sarah Middleton an eerily vacant game-player. Nadia Clifford is a vulnerable girl getting out of her depth and Guy Rhys a voyeuristic property magnate who doesn’t become ‘involved’. Rebecca Humphries plays a fearful prostitute with an abusive past, Sean Rigby a self-loathing, violent security guard and Rochenda Sandall a pill-popping, ruthless businesswoman, denizens of a shadowy underworld that haunts all our imaginations.

Pomona is on at the National Theatre's 'temporary theatre', Southbank, SE1 9PX, until 10 October 2015. Tickets £15-£22. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 18 September 2015