Darkfield Australia is back to interrogate the deepest corners of our minds with their new production, ‘COMA’.
In association with Realscape Productions, ‘COMA’ is the next installation in their series of ‘multi-sensory’ experiences exploring themes of fear and anxiety, even taking place inside ubiquitous shipping containers.
Their previous shows ‘SEANCE’ and ‘FLIGHT’, both of which prey on the power of suggestion and the fear of unknown destinations, have appeared all over Australia. Now their new production, ‘COMA’, invites audiences to venture into the dark again, making its Western Australian premiere at Fringe World Festival Perth in January 2021 alongside the return of their two previous experiences.
With COVID-19 closing the doors on much of the theatre industry in March, Darkfield Australia’s own events were postponed. Realscape Productions Producer Amy Johnson explained what it meant to restart the Australian tour of the three experiences.
“It feels like we were in a time loop,” said Johnson. “We had an amazing season at Fringe World Festival 2020, then the pandemic began the next month. Now we’re back to where we started, so hopefully this year we make it out the other end.”
Thankfully, Western Australia will open its border in time for the festival in the new year. For Johnson, “it felt very good to be approved for the border and actually announce shows with a definite date attached.
“Perth audiences loved ‘SEANCE’ and ‘FLIGHT’, so we’re looking forward to the Western Australia premiere of ‘COMA’.”
The inside of the shipping container for ‘COMA’ is reminiscent of a hospital ward, however, the experience was created prior to the current health crisis.
“Despite the fact that [‘COMA’] was written in 2019, there’s a particular line around being contagious that became a little awkward as things escalated.”
Johnson laments she will be interested in the response to ‘COMA’ now, compared to “before COVID-19 was a word in our vocabularies.”
So far, Artistic Director Glenn Neath says responses have been varied.
“It’s kind of great when something happens that you could never have predicted,” he said, explaining one of his favourite ‘FLIGHT’ memories was when an audience member left the container early because he thought the captain was inviting him to leave.
“We always try to imagine how an audience might respond so that we can control the environment.”
Darkfield’s focus on creating psychologically confronting experiences came from an interest in frightening audiences.
“There is something about the way we present the work which fits very well with suspense and tension, as we can make each audience member feel as if they are at the centre of the story,” Neath said. ‘COMA’ follows the same anxiety-inducing direction by having audiences lie down. “From there, the notion of being in a coma, rather than a relaxing sleep, seemed much more interesting.”
Whilst intense and often disturbing, Neath explains that creating ‘COMA’ has been “conceptually, the most interesting” out of all three experiences.
“The ideas around ‘COMA’ were less locked onto a ‘known’ narrative, such as being on a plane in ‘FLIGHT’,” he said.
“We wanted to explore the idea of the space as fluid and forgettable because in the show you are asked, as an audience member, to collectively recall it when the lights have gone out.”
In original designs, the inside was to act as a green screen onto which multiple imaginings would be projected, but the creative team settled on a neutral cream, allowing the audience members’ minds to run wild. “People will always bring something to it themselves,” Neath said.
After “eight months of purgatory”, Johnson says Darkfield is looking forward to another successful (and freaky!) stop on the tour. Those hungry for a taste of what to expect before Fringe World Festival can immerse themselves in Darkfield’s at-home audio experiences, with the latest exploring the concept of eternal life.
‘COMA’, ‘SEANCE’ and ‘FLIGHT’ run frequently at various times in the Woodside Pleasure Garden at Fringe World Festival Perth from 15 January to 14 February 2021. For more information, visit Darkfield Australia’s website.
Photos by Mihaela Bodlovic.