The tiny Trafalgar Studios 2 has become synonymous with the casting of soap stars in mediocre plays. Witness recent examples Third Floor, Step 9 (of 12) and Chicken.
Tape deviates slightly from this rule in that Stephen Belber's 1999 play, centring on the highly topical issue of the definition of rape, is actually rather good, even if its headline star (EastEnder Marc Elliott) also proves its weak spot.
Set in a motel room in Lansing, Michigan, where media types have gathered for a film festival, it sees 28-year-old Vince (Elliott), a drug dealing drop out, confront his student friend Jon (Darren Bransford) with the accusation he raped a former flame during their college years.
The title refers to a sting Vince performs whereby he records his friend’s confession on a dictaphone, instigating a tussle over the tape. But a neat twist comes when the girl in question, Amy (an icy cool Kate Loustau) shows up, giving a very different version of events to her supposed rapist.
It’s an intimate three-hander that proves ideal for the space, and is tightly choreographed in Thomas King’s naturalistic production. Although the friendship of Vince and Jon seems unlikely at first, as the entrapment unfolds it becomes increasingly engrossing and Belber entertainingly skewers the hypocrisies of his protagonists.
As the tortured liberal filmmaker Jon, Darren Bransford is excellent, capturing the torment of a man who believes himself to be a “good guy” but suddenly finds himself facing moral bankruptcy. But as Vince, Marc Elliott struggles to bring much depth or definition to a character who acts as the drama’s lynchpin.
Much of this is the fault of the role, in that Vince’s drug addiction and resulting paranoia go largely unexplained, making him an inherently frustrating presence. Elliott shows flashes of the talent that has made him a rising star on stage and screen, but his skittish performance lacks nuance and mars an otherwise highly enjoyable and engaging evening.