Disappointing dystopia

Pomona – Temporary Theatre @ National Theatre, until 10 October 2015 (tickets)

Ever since rave reviews greeted Pomona when it premiered at the Orange Tree, I had cursed myself for not summoning the energy to cross London to see a new play that promised dystopian terrors and whose advertising pomona photcredit Richard Davenportcentred on a wonderfully striking image of a Cthulhu sitting cross-legged in an underground car park holding a Rubik’s cube. It certainly seemed a world away from the usual fare of star-led Shakespeare, earnest Russians and undemanding musicals.

Hearing that it had secured one of the prestigious slots in the Temporary Theatre, I placed it alongside People, Places and Things as top of the list of shows to see in the National’s latest season. Full credit for Rufus Norris’ bold booking, and for helping to develop a clear identity for Temporary Theatre space, which is becoming a stage where the National can take risks on young playwrights and emerging theatre companies, and represents precisely what they should be spending their public funding on. It attracts new and diverse audiences, and the arrival of Pomona had clearly resulted in an audience at least a couple of decades below the average age of regular National attendees.

I entered the theatre in a state of anticipation. I exited the theatre (with apologies to Rogers & Hart) baffled, bemused and bewildered. I wish I could say that it was due to the challenging questions that Alistair McDowell’s imaginative script had left me with. I was hoping that it would be because the genre mash-up that throws together RPGs, cinema, Lovecraft and an array of dystopian fiction writers had resulted in a brave new world of theatre.

Unfortunately my bafflement was more with every critic who had seen the workings of a profound masterpiece, whereas I felt more like I had seen a play written by a precocious undergraduate talent severely in need of a dramaturg. There is no doubting McDowell’s talent. It shines through at times, illuminating the suitably dim and dank surroundings. The story makes leaps of the imagination that suggest an elastic mind, and the telling of it is done with verve and wit.

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The name’s Bond, Edward Bond: A very different take on consumerist culture

The Chair Plays – Hammersmith Lyric Studio, until 05 May

Edward Bond’s one-act Have I None, first performed in 2009, is a lacerating fifty-five minute portrayal of humanity surviving in a post- consumerist world. It hinges on Bond’s neat take on the dystopian vision; usually we are provided with one of two choices, either a world that initially appears to have the trapping of a democracy and people seem to have every whim catered before it becomes obvious that it is sustained by the brutal repression of the masses, Hunger Games being the $£750 million example of this. The alternative is a society controlled by a militaristic bureaucracy where everything seems to exist on a tonal palette running from grey to greyer; Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four or Pinter’s New World Order both seem appropriate here.

In Have I None, Bond has carved his own path. The play considers a world where humanity has seen society destroy itself through its consumerist appetites; a character describes people buying sports car just to crash them into walls. In response people have turned to the state for action, and the Government has acted by creating ‘resettled’ towns where the past has been banned and the only personal possessions allowed are those provided by the state. It is enforced equality in action.

Those towns that have not been resettled are infected by mass suicide outbreaks, which give Bond a chance to turn his often-underutilised poetic skills to the sight of rows and rows of people in overcoats waiting for their turn to leap from a bridge. It is a classic Bond technique; every-day brutality that is captured by a lyricism that suggests a beauty that attracts and alienates in equal measure.

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