By the sound of the title one may be forgiven for thinking playwright Will O’Mahony would be leading us into a state of deep torpor.
Far from it. The young playwright’s latest work, Coma Land, presented by Black Swan Theatre Company and Performing Lines WA, is a fun and sensitive outing into an entertaining twilight world of the mind and imagination.
The play touches on family dynamics, parental love, an obsessive pursuit of perfection, the confusion of youth and is at once silly, sad, evocative and unsettling.
Using simple but effective set design – a square platform that rotates the characters through different positions – the play is essentially driven by its quirky and contemporary dialogue.
Central to the story is Boon, a piano playing child genius who has skipped four years of school, possesses a photographic memory and could play the rudiments of Mozart and Beethoven when she was aged two.
The play opens with her lying still on the stage, but why is it so hard for her to wake up? It transpires that she is trapped in a world hovering between life and death.
It is in this halfway world that she meets Penguin, a young girl determined to ﬂy, and they quickly become friends.
Penguin is hovering in the same netherworld and living by the theory that if she practices something for 10,000 hours she will master it. Hence she jumps up and down constantly in an attempt to fly.
But when her protective father stands between them and their escape from their strange world, Boon soon learns that the one thing you can never outsmart is the truth.
A tale of pianos, prodigies, penguins and pandas, Coma Land asks, if it takes so long to master something tricky, then why can it take a lifetime to accept something simple?
“Ideas about mastery, which are so central to Coma Land, are both inspiring and frightening,” said O’Mahony of his play.
“To master something is to control it, and whilst this benefits us in many ways it also raises some moral and ethical questions.
“I read recently that four-year-olds are now being taught ‘time management skills’ in order to thrive in admission tests for prestigious New York kindergartens.
“Cute as it sounds, is there a dark underbelly to these good intentions? Are children, once seen as gifts, now something to be controlled? Mastered?
“Is our culture beginning to warp the parent child relationship? In a world that prizes mastery and perfection, are we at risk of losing our sense of life as a gift? And if so is parenthood one of our last remaining schools for humility?”
Each cast member plays an essential role in answering the weighty questions posed in the premise. There is some entertaining interplay between the colourful central characters and the peculiar realm in which they live also keeps us fascinated and curious for outcomes.
Professional staging, deft lighting and sound effects add to the somewhat surreal state the playwright has dreamed up for his story.
Yet perhaps the most impressive aspect of the play is its originality, which busts the mould of more formulaic productions, and transports us off to a weird and wonderful world.
Mr O’Mahony is a WA talent to watch.
Will Mahony’s play is part of the Performing Lines WA program, which nurtures the development of Western Australian artists and small-to-medium companies to help steer their creations and projects into production.
Director/Writer: Will O’Mahony
Set Designer: Patrick James Howe
Costume Designer: Rozina Suliman
Lighting designer: Chris Donnelly
Sound designer/composer: Rachael Dease
Dramaturg: James Berlyn
Cast: Humphrey Bower, Kirsty Marillier, Amy Mathews, Morgan Owen, Ben Sutton
After the Show
Coma Land runs at the State Theatre Centre of WA, Studio Underground, until Sunday 6 August. For more information and bookings go to:
http://www.bsstc.com.au or call Phone: +61 (8) 6212 9300
Production Photos: Philip Gostelow
Social Photos: Peter Rigby