POMONA To 13 December.


by Alistair McDowall.

Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Street TW9 2SA To 13 December 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 2 Dec, 6 Dec 2.30pm.
Post-show Talks 27 Nov 2.30pm 2 Dec.
Runs 1hr 45min No interval.

TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 November.

Play about vice steadily tightens its grip.
It’s a grim autumn at the Orange Tree. On the day Paul Miller took over from theatre founder Sam Walters the Arts Council England announced a 100% funding cut – the second time this fine, successful and very individual theatre has been under threat from the arts bureaucrats.

Then there are the plays. Miller has continued his predecessor’s mix of reviving plays way off the beaten track (though not yet as recherché as Walters’ revivals from the forgotten repertoire) with new work. And he’s faced audiences – who, so far at least, have responded by filling the place – with some tough material.

Plays by D H Lawrence and – slum-landlordism for Christmas – George Bernard Shaw present tough debate beneath the comforting distance of classic-status authors. The two modern pieces also bring serious issues, and formal challenges, though Deborah Bruce’s The Distance shook-up expectations within the familiar zone of reasonable middle-class discussion.

Not so Alistair McDowall’s Pomona, revived after its student premier in Wales by original director Ned Bennett, with a new cast and design team. And excellent they all are, making the most of the humorous possibilities, while giving realistic scenes maximum tension in the low, often rapid dialogue, its moments of nervily alternating speech caught with detailed immediacy.

Stick with it; at first this seems all-too-common hand-me-down urban nastiness. But McDowall is playing games from the opening speech, the ones that become obvious not always the only one in this sinister town, where the sweet-sounding Pomona is the sink and centre of society’s most horrifying crimes.

Who’s who gradually emerges, though at a single viewing it’s open to interpretation how much of what’s seen is part of some virtual game.

If William Shakespeare were alive today he wouldn’t be writing this sort of stuff. But his fellow-playwright John Webster could well have been, the final calm on the bare, once-bloodstained sink of Georgia Lowe’s set an inconclusive respite.

By that point there was silently intense attention from the audience. Script and production-style are extending this theatre’s range – another reason the proposed funding withdrawal is the most unkindest, most unreasonable, cut of all.

Zeppo: Guy Rhys.
Ollie: Nadia Clifford.
Fay: Rebecca Humphries.
Keaton: Sarah Middleton.
Gale: Grace Thurgood.
Moe: Sean Rigby.
Charlie: Sam Swann.

Director: Ned Bennett.
Designer: Georgia Lowe.
Lighting: Elliott Griggs.
Sound: Giles Thomas.
Movement: Polly Bennett.
Fight director: Pam Donald.
Assistant designer: Katy Mills.

2014-11-16 10:16:21

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