Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 6 – Oct 12, 2019
Playwright: Hilary Bell
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Lucy Bell, Simon Gleeson
Images by Brett Boardman
Five-year-old Laura has just returned home, after a nine-month disappearance. Her parents are understandably traumatised, but relieved to have their nightmare come to an end. In Hilary Bell’s Splinter however, we see that the family’s problems do not vanish quite so easily, as questions arise about this sudden reunion. There are only two actors in Bell’s play, with little Lauren an apparition that we all have to conjure up with imagination, which proves a fascinating device for something that positions itself within the genre of psychological thriller. The ideas in Splinter are engaging, but it is arguable if its dialogue and plot structure are always effective in delivering the tension so crucial to this form of storytelling.
The show begins innocuously, perhaps even drearily, as a conventional family drama that overloads the stage with saccharine sentimentality. It takes a considerable while before director Lee Lewis introduces suspense elements that let the entertainment begin, by which time our boredom with the daytime television style of presentation had almost completely taken hold. At just over an hour long, there is little opportunity for us to settle sufficiently into the real substance of the piece, but the intrigue that does eventually manifest, is admittedly chilling.
The late transformation in atmosphere is cleverly manufactured by creatives including Alyx Dennison, whose sound design confirms the gear switch, giving us necessary cues to swiftly change focus in our interpretation of the narrative. Video projections by Mic Gruchy and lights by Benjamin Brockman become increasingly theatrical, thus guiding our minds into more pronounced spaces of fantasy and delusion.
Lucy Bell and Simon Gleeson perform the piece with extraordinary conviction, both bringing admirable intensity to a tale involving unimaginable suffering. Gleeson has the additional dimension of paranoia to help enrich his character, which he utilises compellingly, for several powerful moments of bloodcurdling dread. Bell is given less extravagant material, but nonetheless offers a reliable, self-possessed counterpoint that prevents Splinter from veering away from its central truthfulness.
Genre is infinitely more prevalent in film, because the form deals almost exclusively in illusion, and is therefore perfect for stories that require drastic alterations to reality. Theatre that venture into those territories must be praised accordingly, for even daring to test the possibilities of the live stage. There is a supernatural quality to Splinter that is almost inevitable, in its depiction of psychological disturbance. In those moments, the audience participates in seeing things that are not present, almost like artists who have the Midas touch, able to make something out of nothing, and in the process, giving to their communities a kind of magic that brings elevation to us all.