Pomona

Mon 20th – Sat 25th August 2018

reviews

Alina Young

at 09:31 on 21st Aug 2018

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Dystopian 'Pomona' imagines the disturbing secrets that are hidden under a wasteland at the troubled centre of Manchester. The play defies genre: “sci-fi”, “thriller” or even “absurdist” do not cover the philosophical musings at the heart of this piece. It explores the blurred lines between being a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person, and returns to the question of whether we choose, or indeed can help, being involved in terrible situations.

The deeply complex characters of 'Pomona' unravel in a non-linear narrative, slowly exposing the light and dark of each. The young cast, all Manchester students, are simply spectacular at portraying these nuances and do justice to their roles. They are emotionally perceptive, and make their characters feel like believable individuals even when the plot is absurd. While all of the young actors are undoubtedly talented, the standout performance was Christopher Stoops as Charlie, who flawlessly brings out both the tragedy and humour of his gentle, geeky character. His counterpart, the security guard Moe (Sam Whitehouse), is a joy to watch develop in the course of the play. Whitehouse portrays Moe's raw anger and hidden depression in a compassionate performance.

The cast showcase student theatre at its best. Naturally, low-budgets make some props or technical execution feel a little DIY. But the cast and crew of 'Pomona' use everything they have – namely, their own dramatic skill – and use it with utmost professionalism. Time and effort has been put into each element of the show, never leaving a sense of haphazard rehearsal or rushed design. It seems obvious to say that the show is well-rehearsed, but frankly it feels much more polished and considered than many Fringe shows this year.

As a play, 'Pomona' is not easy for everyone to connect with; a pessimistic portrayal of the modern urban world and a twisted dystopian plot may be unappealing for some. Although most audience members are fully engaged, a few seem disconnected. It is obvious, however, that the cast and crew fully believe in the urgency for such a play, which is a vehicle for discussing societal pain and injustice under the guise of sci-fi. Their belief carries the show, and makes it rewarding for those that try to understand its message.

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Jessica Loram

at 09:56 on 21st Aug 2018

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Sharp. Disturbing. Funny. I’m struggling to find the words to fully articulate just how surreal and intense HiveMCR’s ‘Pomona’ is. Reality blurs with dystopian nightmare to reveal the underbelly of suffering in Manchester's urban island, Pomona - the setting of Alistair McDowall’s 2014 play. If sci-fi isn’t your thing, then fear not; the real drama of the play lies not in its fantastical setting, but in HiveMCR’s fierce portrayal of the human suffering that drenches 'Pomona'.

Sounding a little too dark? Light relief intersperses the torment thanks to a particularly captivating performance by gaming enthusiast Charlie (Christopher Stoops), whose skilfully comic - but not overwrought - characterisation accentuates the troubled worldliness of his counterpart, Moe (Sam Whitehouse). It feels unfair to only mention these actors, because the entire cast gave an emotionally immersive and dynamic performance. The unembellished set allows 'Pomona’s' psychological landscape to run wild.

Yet there are boundaries, too; a chalk circle delineates the space in which most of the acting takes place, and serves as a constant reminder of the quietly oppressive “loop” mentioned by different characters. The stark use of lighting is harnessed creatively; flashes of pitch black intensify the brutality of a knife fight. But nothing is static or predictable; so as fantasy mingles with reality, the play does not move in an entirely linear direction, and HiveMCR execute this smoothly. I felt held in suspense, but never too confused… with the exception of the alien and the Rubik’s cube (that’s all I’ll say). Although, in my opinion, this quirk only adds to the production’s surreal edge.

In a world brimming with repressed anger, fear and violence, we see that ignorance is preferable to the burden of knowledge, which “is responsibility”, according to the compellingly elusive Zeppo. But knowledge and responsibility are the stuff of reality, and ‘Pomona’ feels uncomfortably close to home, in spite of its eccentricities. So, if you’re up for a hard-hitting, emotional thriller, I’d recommend grabbing yourself a ticket.

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