Home » London Theatre Reviews » Splinter by Martha Loader at the Jack Studio Theatre | Review

Splinter by Martha Loader at the Jack Studio Theatre | Review

I was first properly introduced to what it is like to live with dementia during the pandemic, when I took a job in adult social care – no prior experience was required as full training was given. A lot of the training centred around treating the client or patient as kindly as possible, without being patronising or dismissive. A progressive condition, the symptoms get more severe as time goes on, and the emphasis as far as care goes is on stepping into the patient’s world and living in the moment, as opposed to attempting to assess how far gone a person has become.
Splinter by Martha Loader
In this play, Maggie (Henri Merriam) starts to forget the occasional mundane thing, which doesn’t ultimately result in any harm and could well be considered to be within simple human error. But, without giving everything away, her cognitive abilities continue to decline, to the point where she is let go by her employer, for not performing competently enough. Her partner, Jac (a role shared, for reasons that eventually become clear, by Sarah Livingstone and Caroline Rippin), suggests various avenues by which Maggie could open up dialogue with her now ex-employer, but this element of the story feels underwritten, even if Maggie feels a sense of relief at not having to do a job she no longer enjoys.

There’s a fair amount of pushing and pulling of set pieces to create various settings, but the scene changes served as moments for the audience to pause and reflect. An almost inevitable fallout between the two once the pressure gets too much for Jac to cope with is, if anything, a well-performed piece of dramatic tension, as is a much later and considerably subtler scene: Maggie has moved into a care home, but doesn’t recognise Jac when she comes to visit. Elsewhere, the sheer amount of notes and reminders that end up covering almost every bit of available shelf space is the sort of thing I’ve seen on home visits to dementia patients – my favourite one was a sign (an actual one, not one in the show) reminding the resident that should any cowboy builders come knocking, “tell them to bugger off!

Of course, dementia displays itself in different ways in different people, which is why making this story a deeply personal two-hander works. It is Maggie and Jac’s story, and while there is some universality in their love for one another as well as the need to keep paying the bills no matter what else is happening, and so on, a lot of the details in the narrative are uniquely theirs. Maggie sets out to retain what she considers to be the most important memories for as long as she can, mostly by going over in her mind key positive moments in her life.

A bold and intriguing production that tackles a topic still quite rarely seen on stage, it is not an easy watch. The play portrays both the pleasure and the pain of living with dementia – an educational experience for those who haven’t encountered it full-on before, and an affirming one for those who have.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Maggie is an impulsive free spirit and would like to stay that way. But when her life collides with Jac’s, a whole world of new possibilities opens and she finds a stability she didn’t know she needed.

But life takes a different turn when Maggie and Jac are forced to face the fact that an early onset Dementia diagnosis is going to change the shape of their lives forever. Maggie has never needed anybody before and the relationship starts to fracture as both try to hold on.

From Play Nicely Theatre and written by Martha Loader, Splinter is about love and memory and what happens when you start to lose both.

by Martha Loader
directed by Amy Wyllie
presented by Play Nicely Theatre
Tuesday 28 November – Saturday 2 December 2023


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