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Splinter
Etcetera Theatre
16th August 2017

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for Splinter

Photography provided by Pure Paradox Theatre

Trapped in a room together with no idea why they're in there, seven strangers are forced to make a decision about who they are in order to leave. It's unclear how they got there or to where they might possibly escape if so lucky, but the current situation isn't one that they want to continue. There's some kind of hidden danger lurking, an ominous voice counting down to what might be the end of their existence and an unsurprising feeling of anxiety shared by the group. Welcome to Louise Fitzgerald's Splinter, a mysterious new thriller about ethics and identity.

Steady (Joe Douglass) does his best to rally the troops, but whilst Faith (Madeline Dittrich) believes in him and Pup (Oliver Bower) is eager to please, Flit (Lucy Bell) keeps changing her mind and Blunt (Bride Sheppard) is being rudely uncooperative. Logic (Adam Sharp) would be a voice of reason if he could get any of the words out, being a thinker rather than a spokesman. Bear (Charlie Stradling) is largely silent, left to his own devices by the others who quickly realise it's best not to poke a bear with a sore head and leave him be.

Fitzgerald has a clear idea of how she wants the story to play out, even if her protagonists don't, and gives us every piece of the puzzle required to form that conclusion. Although the structure is well thought out, it does sometimes feel like she's given too much away too soon. For example, there's no reason why the characters can't have more conventional names, leaving the audience to work out their characteristics solely from the actors' portrayal of them. It's right that Logic is so smart and methodical, analysing the clues given to him and for Blunt not to waste her words and immediately get to the crux of the matter. However, does Fitzgerald need to name them both Logic and Blunt respectively in order to labour her point? In the words of River Song, "Spoilers."

Some of the interim questioning and scene setting takes too long and whilst Fitzgerald evidently wants to the ending to be a short, sharp twist, this is actually the more interesting part of her drama and deserves far more exploration. There's a lot of signposting in arriving there and to a large extent, that's inevitable. However, the moral dilemmas she then raises are really thought-provoking and more unpredictable, giving her opportunities to engage with the audience and get them mulling over what they think the outcome should be. Late arrival Eleanor Bryne gives an impassioned performance, but as the only actor not rigidly constrained by a label, she is perhaps given the most artistic freedom.

It becomes difficult to highlight any of the other actors for attention, given the large ensemble. However, Bell delivers a memorable and energetic performance, constantly agitated and changing her mind repeatedly. Dittrich's reassuringly calm, unwavering and supportive is believable and polished. Strong support is given by the rest of the cast.

There are opportunities to shape this tale into something more even more compelling and sharper. Yet this incarnation of Splinter does show huge amounts of promise from Fitzgerald and the rest of Pure Paradox Theatre. An intriguing premise with solid acting.

Splinter opened on 16th August and runs until 20th August 2017 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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