Kings Cross Theatre, January 30

Pomona is an urban nowhere, a clearing in the concrete jungle, bounded by highways. Trucks go in and out, and the two security guards have no idea why. Nor do we. But, as Zeppo, a property gangster, hints to Ollie, a desperate young woman looking for her missing sister, there is something – probably nefarious, possibly beyond our understanding of reality – going on there.

British playwright Alistair McDowall’s 2014 play Pomona, presented here by Secret House in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre, is a quite a trip. These days we lap up TV shows like Stranger Things or Doctor Who, which mix everyday banter and hi-tech fantasy. In the theatre, however, it feels somehow different. Like in the first scene of Pomona, where an Ood, in running shoes, solves a series of Rubiks cubes as two characters puzzle over the mystery at the heart of the play. Can you even do this in the theatre?

It's unclear where fantasy stops and reality starts in Pomona.

It’s unclear where fantasy stops and reality starts in Pomona.Credit:Clare Hawley

The triumph of Pomona is how it demonstrates that, yes, you can. You can have a story that doesn’t know where it begins and ends, doesn’t make it clear what is real and what is not, and leaves the audience – this member of the audience, at least – bemused, while simultaneously being gripping, thought-provoking and unexpectedly funny.

Without the luxury of loose ends being tied up to satisfy the audience, the cast has to rely on an in-the-moment intensity, where every word might be crucial, or might be banal. It demands – and gets – feverish performances from every character. As Ollie, Amanda McGregor is by turns numb and frenzied, while Monica Sayers is a searing Gale and Jane Angharad is an arch, opaque Keaton. Dorje Swallow’s monologue is blisteringly manic and James Smithers crackles with anger as Moe. Fay and Charlie, the characters who come closest to eliciting our sympathies, are brought to life by Lauren Richardson’s rangy, nuanced portrayal of an abused woman and by Kevin Batliwala’s fearless, exuberant weirdness.

Within the confines of the Kings Cross Theatre director Anthony Skuse and a classy creative team (including sound by Nate Edmondson and lighting by Veronique Benett) skillfully draw out the threads of the puzzle. The slick, thrilling pace, cutting from scene to scene, both acknowledges the work’s cinematic references and builds on them, using theatre’s own superpowers of immediacy and imagination.

Until February 8

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