Now showing at Studio Underground at the State Theatre Centre of WA, the world premiere of Coma Land considers where we roam in a comatose state. It proffers a dreamlike world, all the while telling a deeper tale about fathers and daughters, about one failing the other and the devastating consequences that can have.
Our characters are trapped in limbo, existing somewhere between life and death. There’s Boon – an eleven year old genius, her new friend Penguin who is convinced that with enough jumping practice she’ll eventually be able to fly, Penguin’s protective and slightly eerie father, a children’s party planner and a giant panda. In Coma Land friendships are forged and questions are asked whilst minutes are counted.
Kirsty Marillier and Morgan Owen in Coma Land. Photo credit Philip Gostelow.
The play is written and directed by WAAPA graduate Will O’Mahony who enjoyed success with Black Swan in 2015 with Tonsils + Tweezers, and who returns with another ethereal black comedy. Humour carries this work and allows Will to break our hearts when we least expect it. Comedian Ben Sutton is the jocular core of the play, his extensive experience on the comedy circuit clear with his impeccable timing, but Sutton brings depth to the apathetic panda proving his dramatic abilities too. Coma Land’s power lies in taking us from laughter to tears and back again.
Kirsty Marillier is exquisite as Boon, portraying the 11 year old with a convincing combination of innocence and intelligence. Our protagonist is fiercely independent, but Marillier’s vulnerable delivery of O’Mahony’s cleverly crafted script invites the audience to question whether or not she wants to be.
Morgan Owen, Kirsty Marillier, Humphrey Bower, Amy Matthews & Ben Sutton in Coma Land. Photo credit Philip Gostelow.
Coma Land raises questions about parental responsibility. The fundamental expectation of protection – both physically and emotionally – is a given. But how far does does this extend, and what happens when it isn’t provided? Curiously, it’s the comedic panda who offers the closest thing to an answer as we get.
Will O’Mahony talks of the evolution of the play and how, over the years since his first draft back in 2013, it “captured something of a shift in our culture.” That striving for parental control over a child, designing a child’s future, and an obsession with mastery are each contemporary afflictions. But for me this work has the substance and timelessness to become a modern classic.
Coma Land is showing at the State Theatre Centre of WA until 6 August. Tickets available through Ticketek.