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Coma Land

Nerida Dickinson

Emotionally gripping drama, punctuated by fascinating factoids and gently surreal humour.
Coma Land

Black Swan's Coma Land. L-R: Morgan Owen, Kirsty Marillier, Humphrey Bower, Amy Mathews, and Ben Sutton. Photo credit: Philip Gostelow.

Boon comes around in a strange, featureless place, covered in snow. Penguin welcomes her with delight, excited to find a young companion in Coma Land. Young Penguin bubbles over with information about the local rules – you get 10,000 hours to dig in the snow to find your “thing”; when you throw it up in the air, you return to consciousness. Short-stay visitors, under anaesthetic and the like, don’t need to look, their “thing” simply appears when their time is up. Penguin and her dad are the exceptions who stay there, Dad grumbling on his endless treasure hunt and Penguin taking inspiration from the Wright Brothers in her personal quest to fly – she wants to spend 10,000 hours in the air, to master the skill. If each jump leaves her in the air for one third of a second, she has to jump 108 million times to get there, her young enthusiasm never abating. Between their different approaches and intentions, Dad and Penguin’s combined barrage of questions reveal Boon’s story and her own reasons for coming to Coma Land.

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Will O’Mahony’s script explores a fascinating premise, the narrative driven and maintaining pace along its path to acceptance and redemption with intelligently considered characters and snappy dialogue that skates a thin line between instantly relatable and outrageously absurd.

Kirsty Marillier is fascinating as Boon, the self-aware, highly intelligent and deeply sad girl who sees through Dad’s relationship with Penguin and pushes him to face life again. Marillier’s ability to occupy the body and thoughts of an 11 year old girl is so convincing that some audience members take Marillier for a precocious school girl herself. Marillier’s interactions with Humphrey Bower’s Dad are marked by intense, showdowns of personal honesty, contrasting with her fresh and young acceptance of Morgan Owen’s depiction of chatterbox Penguin. Owen is natural in her unquestioning acceptance and enthusiasm for making the best of an unusual family life. Bower has superb delivery of Dad’s gruff mannerisms but allows his deep love and pain to reveal themselves in natural fashion in a great combination of acting ability and O’Mahony’s directorial vision. Amy Mathews (Jinny) and Ben Sutton (Cola the Panda) display an easy rapport together, bringing compassion and comedic relief to the sad and tragic tales unfurling around them. Mathews portrays Jinny’s open mind and ready awareness of others’ needs with a subtle touch, while Sutton works with O’Mahony’s script and direction to treats us with his distinct version of a giant panda with a world weary, melancholic disposition.

Patrick James Howe’s set design is dominated by a revolving square stage, with a descending ramp on one side. This flat featureless scene, with a small platform a way behind it, create the empty wastes of unconsciousness of Coma Land. The sound and lighting design from Rachael Dease and Chris Donnelly are unobtrusively integrated into the performance, atmospheric moments heightened to bring tearful reactions to the critical denouement between Boon, Dad and Penguin.

O’Mahony’s script contains recurring references to multiple intelligence theory and technical piano compositions, as well as random observations about professionally planned children’s parties, the absurd moments of endangered species conservation, the nature of infant attachment and American football franchise merchandise. These punctuate and season the slowly unfolding emotional revelations, dramaturg James Berlyn working with O’Mahony to avoid any jarring moments and keeping the audience gripped by the performance. O’Mahony leads a team to create intellectually stimulating and emotionally engaging work that sends audiences away with plenty of food for thought and overflowing hearts.

4 stars out of 5

Coma Land
By Will O’Mahony
Presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company & Performing Lines WA
Director Will O’Mahony
Set Designer Patrick James Howe
Costume Designer Rozina Suliman
Lighting Designer Chris Donnelly
Sound Designer Rachael Dease
Dramaturg James Berlyn
Stage Manager Rhianne Perrie
Performed by Humphrey Bower, Kirsty Marillier, Amy Mathews, Morgan Owen and Ben Sutton

Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA
20 July 2017 – 6 August 2017

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Nerida Dickinson is a writer with an interest in the arts. Previously based in Melbourne and Manchester, she is observing the growth of Perth's arts sector with interest.

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