Reviews Edinburgh Fringe 2019 Published 25 August 2019

Edinburgh fringe review: Coma by Glen Neath and David Rosenberg

Woozy half-consciousness: Ben Kulvichit writes on Darkfield’s latest shipping container show.

Ben Kulvichit

Coma. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic


Rows of bunk beds, flaky cream walls, an out of order coffee machine. Plastic mattresses wiped down and sterilised. A single chalky pill in a little dish by your pillow.


As in previous Darkfield shipping container shows, there is no escape once the container is plunged into total darkness. Lying down and confined to a bunk bed, the sense of entrapment is even more heightened. Claustrophobia sets in. Is this a bed, or a coffin? 


Choice comes back again and again in Coma – it’s completely our choice, ensures the voice through our headphones, whether we take our pill or not. It makes no difference either way, the pill has nothing in it. Choose a bed, each bed is as good as the next. Choice is an illusion, but having a lack of agency can be freeing. It’s fun to surrender yourself.


I’ll admit to finding myself, lying in the dark near the end of a draining festival, perched on the cusp of sleep for some of the time. This is, surely, the most appropriate show for which to be in a woozy half-conscious state. I can’t help but feel this is where they want me. My own body betraying me, stripping me of choice.


The filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul says that he likes it when people fall asleep to his strange, slow, dreamlike cinema. There’s something about the way films worm themselves into your unconsciousness that’s seductive, making chemical alterations to your still-active brain. Or gory horror films which replay against your will during restless nights.


We hear a doctor, wandering up and down the corridor between the rows of beds, trying to reconstruct the room. Things become less certain – everything’s messed up, in the wrong order. Where does the doctor’s voice end and my own half-waking thoughts begin? Darkness is the home of doubt. Remember the colour of the walls: white… no, cream. The vents – no, forget them. That coffee machine, but where was it? He’s losing control.


There are places Coma could go, that it chooses not to; we’re in a creepy hospital, but we don’t venture into the realm of body horror, sterilised instruments, surgery. Even the moments of really breathy, hair-tingling intimacy are few and far between. It’s not scary, exactly. Instead, it’s a monotone, sedated lull; a looping whisper – more Lynch than Cronenberg. Visceral stabs of adrenaline (via needle or otherwise) are forgone, bar one jumpscare moment that jolts you out of induced drowsiness like electrodes hooked up to the temples.


Behind its technical brilliance, Coma feels a little insubstantial. The voice rambles and meanders as the doctor paces the corridor with little clarity or direction. He’s unsure of himself, even of his own material presence – unsettling, sure, but there’s no real payoff to these questions. It never coheres, or attempts to make much sense.


But then, dreams rarely do. If it lacks substance, it only does so as much as a placebo pill, both empty and potent at once… or theatre itself, perhaps – an ‘insubstantial pageant’, as Shakespeare would have it.


I had a dream once in which I wandered, half-curious, into the back of a van on a Miami beach. Inside it was lit red, and it stretched on for longer than it looked from the outside. I found myself suspended in air against my will, being moved (magnetically?) down a production line, about to undergo some kind of horrible, forced surgery. I remember this dream as the last red light blinks out, and the voice counts down to 0, sending us under.

Coma is on at Summerhall until 25th August, as part of the 2019 Edinburgh fringe. More info and tickets here. 


Ben Kulvichit

Ben Kulvichit is a theatre maker and critic. He also writes for The Stage and his blog, Smaller Temples, and is National Reviews Editor for Exeunt. He makes performances with his theatre company, Emergency Chorus.

Edinburgh fringe review: Coma by Glen Neath and David Rosenberg Show Info

Written by Glen Neath and David Rosenberg



Enter your email address below to get an occasional email with Exeunt updates and featured articles.