First published on 18 Jul 2012. Updated on 9 Aug 2012.
The story begins with an unexpected homecoming. A five-year-old girl, Laura, mysteriously whisked from her bedroom nine months previously, returns home to her mother and father. Laura looks different and her experience is shrouded in unknowns. Shocked and relieved, mother and father escape with Laura to a forest, by the water, for ten days of close quality time together. But, slowly, a splinter of doubt lodges in the father’s mind. He finds himself wondering if this Laura really is his daughter after all.
“To imagine what could have happened to her in those nine months is probably worse than actually knowing what happened to her. And then, once you know, what do you do with it? How does that affect the relationship you have with your child?”
Director Sarah Goodes is venturing into the mental landscape of dread in The Splinter, a production of a new play by Hilary Bell. Goodes is investigating “that headspace when you start to doubt things and the multiplying effect of that doubt. Every human experiences it. And it can totally change something that was quite beautiful into something that’s quite ugly. The power of the human mind to do that is terrifying.”
Goodes mentions several key inspirations for The Splinter that hint strongly at themes of terror and (mis)perception: Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, filmmaker David Lynch, spider sculptor Louise Bourgeois, Poltergeist, Don’t Look Now, Rosemary’s Baby. The title, though, comes from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. In the story, the devil’s mirror shatters into millions of pieces. When the shattered splinters find their way into people’s eyes, all they can see is evil and ugliness.
The crisis and the drama of the parents’ situation in The Splinter is very real, Goodes explains, but the play sits in a unsettling, unreal world of illusions and delusions. “I don’t know what’s going on but I know it’s not good” is how Goodes describes the atmosphere.
The woman in charge of conjuring that spooky unreality is Alice Osborne, hailing from the arts collective My Darling Patricia who brought the adult’s puppet show Africa to STC audiences in 2011. Osborne says the production will feature two onstage ‘manipulators’ “haunting the space or creating an atmosphere of what is going on in the man’s mind.” The manipulators will also represent Laura – who, at times, may simply take the form of a ‘presence in the space’. “The play is all about questioning her identity,” Osborne says, “so we’re playing with the actual physicality of what we use to represent her.”
With two children of her own, Goodes says that the play is a truthful study of the anxiety – and yes, the terror – of parenting. “They bring out the best in you but they also bring out the absolute worst in you. It’s a psychologically intense experience. People just talk about how wonderful it is. But you’re in the trenches a lot of the time.”
Special thanks to the Museum of Contemporary Art and the 18th Biennale of Sydney for the use of Judith Wright’s ‘A Journey’ in Time Out’s photo shoot.
The Splinter plays Wharf 1 10 Aug-15 Sep
Full text of The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen on the Literature Network