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Tape at Drayton Arms Theatre – Review

TapeAs Thomas Aquinas said “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship” and who can argue with that? Like most people, I probably have only a handful of friends that would meet this definition of friendship and I value my relationship with them as highly as that with my family. But what if one of these friendships turned out to be not quite as true as I believed to be but was actually based on a desire that I didn’t really comprehend? And what happens when the reality of that relationship is finally revealed? Welcome to Tape currently being shown at the Drayton Arms.

In a seedy motel room in the American town of Lansing, Michigan, two friends are having a reunion. The room has been rented by Vince (Johan Munir) an affable drug dealer and volunteer fireman who is in town to support his best friend Jon Saltzman (Fergus Leathem) a documentary filmmaker who has an entry in the town’s film festival. The two men have been friends for years – all the way back to school in fact – and after catching up on each other’s current lives, they start to reminisce. A few drinks and a couple of dodgy cigarettes in, the conversation turns to their last year at High School and, in particular, their individual relationships with another student, Amy (Charlotte Reid). This is obviously familiar ground when the lads get together and Jon is distinctly uncomfortable with the way the conversation, especially when, after much goading by Vince, Jon admits something that he has never spoken of openly before. Although he regrets blurting out his story, once Amy arrives, the three of them finally discuss past events and their own perception of them changing the relationship of all three of them forever.

Tape is an interesting study of relationships, memory and perspectives that is, on the whole very well written by playwright Stephen Belber. In some ways, I found that I rather disliked all three characters. Without giving too much away, I found them all to be a bit superficial – I didn’t even really believe Jon’s remorse – I think it was more linked to his career taking off rather than genuine regret. And I have to be really honest and say I could see no reason for Vince and Jon to be friends. Not only did they seem to have nothing in common – except some shared memories – their friendship was only sustained by Vince’s continual desire to hear Jon say one thing and confirm Vince’s own very selfish perception of events ten years previously. Having said that though, the writing itself is good and there are some wonderful phrases in the script such as this exchange between the guys – Vince: “What, you think I’m a dick?” Jon: “Uh, no. But I do know that occasionally you have a tendency to act in a phallic fashion.”

This production of Tape was extremely good in all respects. Production Designer Anna Reid and Director Robyn Hoedemaker have assembled a great acting space, which in many respects really did look like a run-down motel and I was impressed with the use of invisible walls to create a small bathroom to the side of the bedroom itself. I also enjoyed the use of video projection – particularly in the final scenes – and liked the way the lighting was used, especially for the scene changes.

Moving to the actors. Whilst, as I have said, I didn’t particularly like the characters themselves, all of the actors played their roles extremely well. Both Fergus and Johan really brought their characters to life, and I got the distinct feeling that in the real world, Johan, rather like Vince, liked nothing better than sitting around in his boxers having a beer or two, And there was something about Fergus’ very earnest playing of Jon that was quite endearing, and even though I didn’t like him, I actually found myself hoping his film did well. Charlotte Reid’s Amy came across well, and seemed to have a lot of self-possession and calm that would definitely have stood her well in her job as an Assistant District Attorney.

As we left the theatre, my companion and I had quite a discussion about the play. We disagreed about certain aspects, particularly around the characters, though both of us did enjoy the performance. In that respect I have nothing but praise for the production, anything that stays with the audience after the curtain falls and causes much discussion and introspective thinking, has got to be a fine testament to the power of theatre.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

When budding filmmaker Jon meets up with his ex-high school friend Vince – an erratic drug-dealing dropout – the conversation turns to Vince’s high school sweetheart; and one reckless night. As things get heated it becomes clear that this is no innocent exchange of college anecdotes.

The whole thing’s on tape and Amy is about to arrive any minute…

Exploring the fine line between privacy and voyeurism, this production of Stephen Belber’s Tape is a fast-paced and unpredictable psychological drama about the love-hate chemistry that endures between true friends.

TAPE
Tuesday 24 May 2016 – Saturday 11 June 2016
http://www.thedraytonarmstheatre.co.uk/

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