Thursday 27th November 2014
For several years now, I’ve been an advocate of what I call leftfield theatre. Those plays that, because of their radically different and wildly imaginative form and content, question the norms of mainstream playwriting. Leftfield theatre is avant-garde, it’s untypical, it’s playwriting that’s in the tradition of the absurd, the surreal and the just plain weird. It’s work which blends the real and fanciful. As one character remarks in Philip Ridley’s Moonfleece (2009), “He used to mix fantasy up with real stuff.” Yes, that’s leftfield alright. The latest example is Alistair McDowall’s Pomona, a simply breathtaking piece of new writing. Named after a wasteland in the heart of Manchester, the play features a quest in which Ollie, a young woman, searches for her twin sister — and stumbles on a horror that is almost too revolting to contemplate. I love the eccentricity of the characters, such as Zeppo — a creepy oddball whose opening speech about Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is a masterclass in sinister entertainment. He spends his nights endlessly driving around on the M60, taking business meetings in his car while cramming McNuggets down his throat. Then the story, which is fractured and thrillingly non-linear, broadens out into a grim account of prostitution and disappearance. Yet although the dialogues are emotionally true, the playwriting is never just naturalistic: McDowall builds his scenes by using references to pop-culture, creating a smash-up of television, video games, comics, fantasy and music. This new eclecticism shines as brightly as diamonds in a sewer. Pomona is poetic, it is painful and it is both imaginative and real. Almost too real. And yet there are plenty of laughs during this horror trip. Ned Bennett’s in-yer-face production will both delight and frighten you. If it doesn’t, then get another ticket, and go back and try again.