A delicate and poignant gem: Coma Land

23 July 2017

Review: Coma Land –
Black Swan State Theatre Company & Performing Lines WA –
Studio Underground, State Theatre of Western Australia –
22 July –
Reviewed by Nina Levy

The light feels cold; chill, sheer and violet tinted. All around is emptiness, save for a large, grey shag-carpeted platform. This is the  temporary home of those who are unconscious. It’s also the setting of Coma Land, a little gem of a play by local playwright and director Will O’Mahony.

Centred on eleven year old child prodigy Boon (Kirsty Marillier), Coma Land feels a little like a fairy tale; with its snowy wonderland setting and quest-centred plot. As Boon discovers, there is only one way out of this strange place between consciousnesses and death. To be returned to the land of the living, inhabitants must locate their “thing” – an object of personal significance that is buried in the snow – and throw it in the air. The task must be completed within 10 000 hours.

Kirsty Marillier & Morgan Owen. Photo: Philip Gostelow.

In this almost magical setting, with its shag-pile snow, eerie light and icy silence punctuated by occasional falls of tinkling notes, Boon meets an odd assortment of characters. Penguin (Morgan Owen), who takes Boon under her wing (so to speak), is a chirpy child who seems uncertain of her species. Dad (Humphrey Bower), Penguin’s father, is friendly but threatening, even sinister. Jinny (Amy Mathews) is a party planner who seems a little too happy to be genuine, and Cola (Ben Sutton) is a panda who just wants to be ‘normal’.

It all seems a universe away from reality, but, as the play unfolds, we discover that each character is dealing with very human concerns; the need for parental love and acceptance, the desire to fit in, coming to terms with loss.  It’s big-ticket stuff, but it’s  handled gently, with compassion and quirky humour.

In the central roles, the two youngest cast members gave moving performances on opening night. As the gifted but socially isolated Boon, Marillier was heartbreakingly recognisable as a precocious but vulnerable child, whilst 2016 graduate Owen was equally touching as the delightfully optimistic, if naive, Penguin. A veteran by comparison, Bower handled his role as Penguin’s guilt-ridden father with customary skill, while Mathews and Sutton provided numerous laughs.

Humphrey Bower and Kirsty Marillier. Photo: Philip Gostelow.

In terms of design, everything about Coma Land is minimal, evoking a sense of absence that feels appropriate for a place where consciousness retreats from the body. Patrick James Howe’s revolving carpet-clad platform creates a textured but open space, while Rachel Dease’s glacial-sounding winds, water and music break the silence but a handful of times. Even Chris Donnelly’s lighting has a narrow range; a polar winter, where the sun never quite rises. There’s just one burst of shining colour and sound, a crescendo in every sense.

Though it tackles topics such as suicide and grief, Coma Land finishes, nonetheless, on a note of hope. With a beautifully crafted and finely tuned script, Coma Land is delicate, poignant and uplifting. It’s well worth your time.

Coma Land plays the Studio Underground until August 6.

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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