Bunk beds line the walls, a sterile cream colour melting into plastic mattresses. Wiped down with surgical spirit, the shipping container would feel barren, were it not for the ghost on loudspeaker. “Every bunk is safe,” it breathes. “Every bunk is as good as the next.” Audience members slip into their preferred bed, pillows creaking beneath their weight. Once lying down, one is asked to retrieve a small, nondescript pill from their bedside, and to swallow it. A taste of chalk sticks in the throat as the lights begin to dim. Procedure is the same as when being administered with an anaesthetic. A single voice counts backwards from ten, until the world is plunged into complete darkness.
Fertile ground for the theatre of the mind.
The latest immersive innovation from Darkfield (Séance, Flight), Coma possesses the distinct flavours of a nightmare. The gloom presses against your body as you lay, rigid. It is thick, impenetrable – fertile ground for the theatre of the mind. Whispered into the ears via a set of headphones, the narrative manifests as a kind of sleep paralysis. Footsteps can be heard wandering the corridor that separates the bunks. A man speaks, his breath touched with coffee. He enquires after the placebo that is now being metabolised, disclosing feelings of invisibility as it rushes towards the bloodstream. “Are you still there?” he asks. “Yes” we reply, as the smell of his aftershave mixes with the shadows.
Coma is an impeccable feat of engineering. The experience promises (and delivers) total immersion using a 360-degree binaural soundscape, as well a convincing sensory palate. In keeping with previous works, the piece leans towards an exploration of fear and anxiety. It succeeds – the overall effect is eerie, the sense of the unknown tangible. Towards the end of the 25-minute event, the room is subject to violent tremors. This is where apprehension and dread come out to play. Laced with suspense, Darkfield have mastered yet another cutting-edge drama. Not one to be missed.