Review: Tape, Trafalgar Studio 2 ✭✭✭✭✭

Studio theatres are often some of the most exciting venues; the audience can practically touch the actors and this intimacy can create a special audience-actor relationship. Thomas King’s production of Tape, epitomises such theatre. Stephen Belber’s play is a crackling, surprising, riveting exploration of human relationships, and King’s production is stunningly precise.

Vince, a volunteer fire-fighter come drug dealer, played by Marc Elliot, is in Lansing, Michigan, for the film festival. High school friend and documentary filmmaker Jon Saltzman, played by Darren Bransford, has a film screening at the festival. Jon joins Vince in Vince’s motel room, and the two reminisce about their high school years. Conversation eventually turns to the subject of Amy Randall, whom Vince dated in high school but never had sex with. After they broke up, we learn she slept with Jon, and naturally Vince felt hurt. Vince accuses Jon of “kind of” raping Amy and following an obsessive interrogation succeeds in getting a confession. When Vince pulls out a tape recorder and reveals he has been recording the conversation, the atmosphere gets even darker. And to top it off, Kate Loustau as Amy, who is now an Assistant District Attorney, then arrives at the door of Vince’s room.

Elliot as Vince is spectacularly unstable. The character is clearly a man on the edge, but Elliot avoids cliché and his performance is grounded in truth. Elliot’s Vince is sharp-tongued, impetuous, vicious, and as Jon says, “rude for the sake of it”. His inner battle for self-control is fascinating to watch, and it is even more enjoyable as it is self-inflicted; he is on a cocktail of alcohol and drugs throughout. Elliot is marvellous in the role; it is a powerhouse performance.

King directs Stephen Belber’s wickedly funny play with great subtelty.

Bransford is the perfect foil as best friend, Jon. He is idealistic where Vince is nihilistic, grounded when Vince is flighty, conventional when Vince is insubordinate. He bounces off Elliot brilliantly. Loustau enters as Amy, unaware of what she is walking in to. She soon develops her own agenda, however. Loustau is a very watchable actress, who gives a consistently strong performance, taking over control of the stage as soon as she enters.

King directs Stephen Belber’s wickedly funny play with great subtlety. The script is a goldmine for a director, and King exposes all of the dark humour, tension, tender affection, beauty and cutting truths of the play. Alex Marker’s set is simple but effective, and his costume designs are entirely apt; the costumes clearly show the varying social status of the characters – Vince in a dirty vest and boxers, Jon in chinos and a shirt, and Amy in a smart black blazer that is a hallmark of many power-dressing modern women.

This is an affecting, stirring and stylish production. It is a visceral experience for the audience, and the three actors give stunning performances. This is a beautiful gem; a very exciting piece of theatre.

***** (5 stars)
Runs until 10th November
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