Radiator has humour, pace, and wit. It delves into serious mental illness, unhindered by its harmless jokes and portrayed by a character who questions the meaning of identity. Radiator seemingly has it all. What’s not to like? Well, unfortunately quite a bit.

There is always a daunting risk involved with single actor performances, and rightly so; the material must be fruitful and the actor must be tailor-picked for their role, otherwise the audience will lose interest without hesitation. Unfortunately, Radiator falls victim to such risks.

Playwright Madeleine Bye writes the story of one woman, Susan (Julia Masli), who is trapped in her home – a metaphor of her mind – due to the obstacles presented by her schizophrenia. Her only companion is her trusty – and rusty – radiator.

Masli deftly uses her natural physicality to capture the audience at the beginning; she tip-toes towards the radiator, spilling tea and scurrying away like a preyed upon animal. However, Masli severely lacked any vocal variation. Line after line was shouted, alternating between earnest and exasperated expressions. Masli, just like Susan, was trapped; she was in a rut of unnatural yet clichéd acting.

Writer Bye also directs the production which comes at quite the surprise. There are glimpses of potential at unexpected moments within the play, such as Susan suddenly demanding to know if the radiator ‘has eyes’. But these are mostly missed opportunities for something more spectacular to happen. The text material offers a conventional – albeit interesting – up-and-down of emotion, with a non-linear chronology further questioning Susan’s emotional progression. Yet, this was not portrayed onstage. There seemed to be a disjoint between the writing and the direction, as if the text itself began to carve out a nuanced character but the direction did not pick up on many emotional cues. Perhaps this was Bye’s intention; it is, after all, a play about schizophrenia. But, if the audience cannot distinguish the difference between poor direction and an artistic concept, perhaps that’s an indicator of the former?

Radiator reeks of potential. It is admirable to produce a play solely about one person’s experience of mental illness. But, for me, it also reeks of loss. Loss of potential, loss of character, loss of impact. It was a missed chance to use Bye’s own text, abundant with subtext, to create a piece to truly astound. In truth, it is a half formed piece about a subject which truly deserves more.

Radiator is playing Tristan Bates Theatre until August 6. For more information and tickets, see the Tristan Bates Theatre website.