If you’ve ever sat in a theatre and experienced the distinct sensation of being hit mercilessly about the head by themes and emotions you’ve entirely lost the will to identify or interrogate, you may be in a position to imagine what watching The Reed Player feels like.
For some context, here’s what the audience knows going in: A mute woman—albeit, as it turns out, the most talkative mute woman you’ll ever come across—is hiding out in some rugged coastal hut, kept company only by her bamboo flute and traumatic flashbacks to a terrible, life-shattering event that’s hinted at with such an alarming lack of subtlety that the immediate effect is a total alienation of what should have been a sympathetic opening night crowd.
(A bamboo flute may seem an odd choice for a play called ‘The Reed Player’, but that’s not where the bafflement ends: The mute woman plays her home-made, hole-free instrument by waving it around in the general vicinity of her mouth and without expending any breath, and the flute’s frequent appearances are scored instead by prerecorded tracks that feature no woodwind sounds whatsoever. Perhaps the irony of a very talkative mute woman juxtaposed with a completely soundless musical instrument was intended; if it was, I admit the significance was lost on this reviewer.)
The play’s language is unashamedly poetic. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but where the heightened text could have served to shed a novel kind of light on a difficult topic, its fractured, repetitive nature makes for a frustrating theatrical experience. The script also seems to force the actor, Laura Kelly, to start at Emotion & Volume Level 100 and stay there throughout, a tactic that always has the unintended consequence of exhausting an audience in no time. It’s clear a lot of hard work went into Kelly’s committed performance, but, unfortunately, that’s not always enough; it’s to be hoped her talents will soon find a more suitable platform.
While it’s brave and necessary to write formally challenging work to reflect on difficult issues, it’s truly unfortunate that a serious topic such as the one tackled in this play is ultimately handled in a way that diminishes the impact the productionshould’ve had.
The Reed Player, written and directed by Marianna le Roux, can be seen at The Outlore Base on the 22nd of July 2023 at 18:00 and 20:00. Tickets can be booked through Quicket.