After nine long months, a mother (Helen Thomson) and father (Erik Thomson) recover their lost daughter, who was suddenly taken from her bed in the middle of the night. However, it is clear that something has changed. Discovering what that ‘something’ is forms the basis of the new production from the Sydney Theatre Company, The Splinter.
The play tackles the issues of loss, memory and change in a family who has clearly suffered. This is evident not only in the characters themselves but also the faded, dreary home that they have come back to. The carpet, curtains and furniture are worn, in murky shades of green and brown, reflecting a life once lived that has faded from their view.
Apart from the heart-wrenching conversations (becoming arguments) that the mother and father have, there are moments that are incredibly disturbing and often quite creepy. This is largely triggered by the puppets that stand in the place of the daughter (which is based on Japanese Bunraku puppetry). The puppeteers (Kate Worsley and Julia Ohannessian) are clearly visible and as the narrative progresses they take on characters of their own. The Splinter is reminiscent of a combination of films including The Shining (remembering the eerie twin girls) and Poltergeist (before you enter the Wharf 1 theatre, there is a pin board that has a clipping from the film, which shows that it was a source of inspiration).
As well as these puppets, which have pale-looking skin and straw-like blonde hair, there are other elements that send chills down the spine including a hand-held blower that creates movement of inanimate objects and a large white paper dress which is delicately walked on and off stage by the puppeteers/manipulators. Although providing a sense of unease, fear and confusion, it is quite beautiful and symbolic of the anxiety that comes with the act of remembering which constantly plagues the parents on stage.
The Splinter is a close encounter with what it means to be missing and then found. It exemplifies the impact it has on relationships and how, when something is found again, it is unlikely that things will ever be the same. The mother and father are taken on an emotional rollercoaster, even convincing themselves that the daughter they have found is someone else. The thoughts cross their mind that maybe there are multiple personas present in the one being. The dim lighting and dark looming shadows they see beyond the window curtain of their home suggests that they might not have been ready for their daughter to come back, however happy they try to be. Yet this is only one viewpoint. The Splinter can be interpreted in multiple ways but it will stay with you long after it is over.
The Splinter continues at Sydney's Wharf Theatre until September 15th.
All the details you need are here: http://www.sydneytheatre.com.au/what's-on/productions/2012/the-splinter.aspx