Theatre review: The Basement Tapes, Summerhall

The magnetic Stella Reid takes centre stage in this twisty, unpredictable play that has absolutely nothing to do with the identically named Bob Dylan album.

Stella Reid takes centre stage in this unpredictable play. Picture: Contributed

The Basement Tapes, Summerhall (Venue 26) ****

Instead, we join Reid as a young woman clearing out her recently deceased grandmother’s basement, trying on ancient clothes that could be on the cusp of coming back into fashion and dancing riotously to the music blaring from her headphones (an early routine set to Kanye West’s Fade is fantastic fun, to the extent it could rival the actual music video).

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Among the clutter she finds a portable tape player, in an old jacket pocket, a cassette tape. In the words of clickbait headlines the world over: what happens next will amaze you.

What makes The Basement Tapes so goddamned impressive is the way the writing continually wrongfoots expectations – at various points the show feels like it could be about a young woman’s voyage of self-discovery; an unlikely romcom with a classic meet-cute; a Chaplin-esque physical comedy; a thoughtful meditation on grief, guilt and regret; an unsettling and visceral horror.

Reid’s unerring performance ties all these strands together and instead of jarring, they come together fluidly – a reminder that life (and its end) is not one or other genre of story but all genres interwoven and overlapping and playing out at once.

The star turn is supported by spot-on lighting, production and sound design – lights, music and voices bleed from one source to another to many at once, depending on who’s meant to be observing them (Reid? the audience? someone else entirely, or perhaps no living soul anywhere?), and the cluttered basement is by turns cosy and threatening. While Reid is the focal point for the various narrative threads, it’s Jane Yonge’s confident direction that spins them into something more expansive and durable.

• Until 26 August, 6:30pm