Coma – Edinburgh Fringe

I would absolutely love to be in a coma. Please medically induce me, tomorrow if possible? This is how I feel now that I’ve seen ‘Coma’, an immersive experience that aims to recreate what it’s like to be in minimal consciousness.

The production fosters jittery pre-show anticipation. It is set in a shipping container. Inside, there are rows of clinical white three-tiered bunkbeds. I climbed into my bunk, lay down and put the headphones on. There was a pill next to me, and I was encouraged to take it. I did, and it tasted like many other pills – crumbly, and it stuck to the tongue. It was soon pitch black.

My hands were turning numb. I imagined other people around me to get some perspective on what was upcoming. I will not reveal many details of what came after, because by its nature this production’s experience is a deeply personal one.

There is a voice of a male doctor who talks to you, being a general advisory presence. I felt that the production wasn’t trusting people to experience the show’s effects on their own. The voice made it quite clear what it wanted me to feel, which made me feel it less because things were less organic.

The use of binaural sound was extremely impressive. It gave the sounds proximity and texture. At different stages its sounds made me feel grateful, sycophantic, and then regretful about that and wanting to be true. It made me jump, love, feel at peace – and my favourite, the feeling of being high up on a plane, flying over everything, away. I felt like I didn’t want to go back to anything outside on land and do all those things I only do out of a sense of activity, not of care for the things themselves.

There were also excellent smells dispersed in the bunks. One of which is still on my clothes hours later.

This said, I wanted more from the production. The voice at the beginning spoke for too long, and I would have preferred it if it had been cut out almost completely. The show was also very short. The company perhaps tried to pack a bit too much in, and could have done with exploring fewer effects in greater depth.

One of its biggest problems was a reluctance to put the audience through anything intense or difficult. Each effect that could have evoked any uncomfortably strong emotion was quickly followed by something neutral. There wasn’t enough time to adjust to each one and form a proper response to it. The production was hesitant to let the audience succumb; it felt like the power was always in comforting hands. It did not go to the dark recesses it advertised that it would.

On Darkfield, the production company’s website, a quote by Kurt Vonnegut is featured: ‘how nice, to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive’. This is what the production made me feel. I plead with Darkfield to re-advertise in the Fringe media, because what’s there is different from what’s on their website. Participants’ energy needs to be re-channelled somehow to reach the show’s intention more fully. Overall, this production has teased me and I am excited to know what this production company can do in the future.

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James Sullivan

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