Review by Rhys Tarling
Coma Land is a sweet if slight meditation on parental love and feeling like a freak.
Will O’Mahony‘s play, more than any other Black Swan play I’ve ever seen, relies on its actors to do most of the heavy lifting; it’s a play with very few props and only one rotating stage – no ‘set’ to speak of here. It’s a gambit that pays off, in a way, because the cast is magnificent.
Its over-reliance on quirky affection and humour and its murky plotting is…less than magnificent, though of course there is enjoyment to be found, and at a brisk 70 minutes, it never overstays its welcome.
Five people (one of whom is a panda – quirky) are trapped in a zone between life and death. The only way for them to regain consciousness is to find a particular treasure that will inspire their will to live. It begins with child music genius Boon (Kirsty Marillier) forming a friendship with the overzealous and effervescent Penguin (Morgan Owen), who’s been in this purgatory for a long time. So they play children, and their performances are criminally convincing.
However Penguin’s father (Humphrey Bower) seems determined to keep his daughter in the purgatory. Why he wants that is illuminated near the end of Coma Land, in what I assume is supposed to be a reveal that crystallises the themes – the complexity of parental love – but instead left me a little confused. No, I was totally confused. But Humphrey Bower holds the scene together with such heartbreaking honesty that, in the moment, I was moved. All the actors involved successfully convey the essence of a story that could have done with a little massaging and clarification.
To counter the heaviness, there’s children’s party planner Jinny (Amy Matthews) and grumpy zoo panda (Ben Sutton). Jinny’s friendly goofiness and the panda’s transparent attempts to pass himself off as human are pleasurable scenes in and of themselves but they aren’t as unified with the narrative as I would have liked.
For as frustrating as its scattershot narrative is, I can say that Coma Land is overall immensely enjoyable. There are flashes of brilliance in O’Mahony’s story, and he can certainly hold your attention despite a lack of the usual visual razzle dazzle in Black Swan plays. For what it’s worth, I’m excited to see where he goes next.