Interview with Writer of Pomona, Alistair McDowall, at Orange Tree Theatre

Pomona is a sinister and surreal thriller from Alistair McDowall, writer of Talk Show, Brilliant Adventures and Captain Amazing. The play rotates around Ollie whose sister is missing. Searching Manchester in desperation, she finds all roads lead to Pomona, an abandoned concrete island at the heart of the city. The performance runs at Orange Tree Theatre, London, 12 November – 13 December. Aesthetica speaks to McDowall about the process of writing the piece and his work with director Ned Bennett.

A: Pomona opens at Orange Tree Theatre on the 12 November – can you explain where the idea for this text came from?
AMD: The idea for the play came when I was driving back home to Manchester very very late one night and due to my poor geography ended up driving around the M60 ring road for a very long time. The unsettling nature of an empty multi-lane ring road at 3am did bizarre things to my already slightly addled mind and the play began to form very organically, building itself out of the various anxieties and fears I had accumulated over the nine years I’d spend living in one city (Manchester) and commuting frequently to another (London). The play opens on the M60 and takes place within it, but it could very easily take place in any city in the country. It’s a play about a particular kind of urban anxiety.

A: The artwork for the performance is rather intriguing, how much involvement did you have in this?
We were quite clear about the image we wanted to promote the show – to say too much about this masked figure would spoil things a little. I’m convinced the play as a whole is best experienced knowing as little as possible about it, so the promotion had to be intriguing and inline with the tone of the play whilst not giving everything away.

A: How was it working with director Ned Bennett?
AMD: Working with Ned is a joy because he’s one of my oldest and best friends. Luckily for me, he has also developed into one of the most exciting directors around, as anyone who will have seen his recent work will agree. He was recently a groomsman at my wedding and did a great job, so I’m pretty sure he’ll perform similarly well here.

A: Who influenced this piece?
I wrote the first draft of the play in quite a free-associative manner, letting the story reveal itself to me gradually. The major influences on the play are novels – Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, and The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. I was enraptured by the jumble of interior and exterior Faulkner used to craft his narratives, and the chaotic detritus of contemporary life that Foster Wallace used when building his world. Pomona has a very direct, high-stakes plot; but the way that plot is revealed to the audience is through stranger means that usual. Don’t worry though, there’s still some jokes.

A: What are you working on now?
AMD: I’m currently under commission to the Royal Court and National Theatre Connections, and I’m developing various TV and film projects as well.

Pomona is at the Orange Tree Theatre, 1 Clarence Street, Richmond, Surrey, London, TW9 2SA, 12 November – 13 December. There are £10 tickets for under 30s at every performance 020 8940 3633.

1. Pomona rehearsal shot, courtesy of Manuel Harlan.