Review: Why I prefer Alistair McDowall's Pomona to X (Royal Court)
I was three quarters of the way through the first half of Alistair McDowall's new play X at the Royal Court and it was pressing the right buttons to give me nightmares.
It's set inside one room on a space station on Pluto where the crew are awaiting a spacecraft to pick them up and take them back to earth. Only it is late and all the lines of communication with earth have gone silent. As the crew wait for news with varying degrees of patience and panic one of them says they have seen something outside. It's an alien thing you see (don't laugh). I had to sleep with the light on after watching the film Signs. And it doesn't help that outside the one window at the back of the set it is dark. I'm thinking: if something appears at that window I might freak out.
Then something happens that seems to normalise the situation. Sort of. This is Alistair McDowall after all. It's difficult to explain without giving too much away but it's like someone took a pin to a balloon and pop, the tension is gone. And it never gets it back.
It is the reason why I prefer Pomona. That is much broader in scope and setting but, even though it leaves you with plenty of questions, it felt like a much tighter play and as a result more powerful.
In X, as time no longer has any meaning, the characters begin to lose their sense of themselves and probably the most startling thing about the play is how routine to an extent defines them. What is also interesting is in how the different characters respond to the situation they are in. Some cope better than others but that doesn't seem to mean much as their isolation and waiting extends.
But none of this is quite enough after the intensity of the first half. There is a twist which was spoiled by the cast list (another reason not to read anything before seeing a play) and as the stay on the space station stretches timelessly with only flimsy markers to grasp then so did my interest begin to dwindle.