Undoubtedly, the worst thing that could happen to any parent is to have their 4 year-old-child kidnapped from their bed during the night.
Hilary Bell’s play ‘SPLINTER’ begins with a happy ending, the return by the police of their now five-year-old daughter, Laura, after a nine month disappearance. They are understandably over-joyed. The kind of elation that is so extreme they seem fragile, over-compensating and emotionally lost.
As they try to re-connect with Laura, not knowing what has happened to her or where she’s been, they both feel they should take her to their happiest place, their holiday beach house.
Unlike the first production of ‘SPLINTER’ at the Sydney Theatre Co. in 2012, where Laura was a puppet, the second production at the Griffin, directed by Lee Lewis, has an invisible Laura, who’s presence is mimed by her mother (Lucy Bell) and father (Simon Gleeson) – known in the program notes as simply ‘woman’ and ‘man’. Imagining Laura is harder work for the actors and audience, but adds an interesting dynamic which has us focusing more on her parents and their anxiety.
Playwright Hilary Bell writes in her program note: “I always wondered what life could be like following such a traumatic event. Can it ever return to normal? Do the effects ever vanish? How does a parent relate to a child who’s been through the unimaginable?”
As the parents play games to make Laura feel welcome again, she is not responding as she used to. She is withdrawn and distant. The mother reads books, particularly fairytales (one of the playwright’s favourite obsessions), including Grimm Brothers’ “The Wild Swans” and Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, and gives her as much physical affection as is possible.
The father becomes traumatised by doubt, the core of the play’s story. He wonders if this Laura is an imposter and his wife’s anger and horror that he could possibly think this only fuels his confusion. Hilary Bell has written a fine script, including psychological references of horror linked to images like “a window left open”. She describes her play as a “gothic thriller”.
Lucy Bell and Simon Gleeson give wonderful performances, passionate and complex. We are relieved when they fight as this seems normal and father wants Laura to throw a tantrum as their world is too silent.
Lee Lewis has cleverly and subtly drawn us into their torment. Mother does not give up on bonding with Laura, to the point where she puts her back on the breast for comfort. Father, who sadly would have been a loving parent, is coming close to giving up.
The chilling audio by Alyx Dennison and taunting video projection by Mic Gruchy towards the end of the 70 minute play, enhance the climactic ending.
Lighting by Benjamin Brockman is great.
Tobhiyah Stone Feller as designer has created a practical beach-house themed set, symbolic use of sand in the toy teapot and briefly, a thin stream of sand falling from the ceiling.
‘SPLINTER’ is a fine study of human nature; our need for love, our vulnerability and fear of loss.
‘SPLINTER’, from the Griffin Theatre Company, plays at SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross, until October 12th, 2019.
Featured image : Simon Gleeson and Lucy Bell in Hilary Bell’s ‘Splinter’ at the Stables Theatre. Pic Brett Boardman