Theatre Review: Self Tape (King’s Head Theatre, London) ★★★

Self Tape, a one-person show about the tricky world of cam sex, returns to London’s King’s Head Theatre after a successful first run earlier this year. This is a classic, old-school style of gay theatre; a fringe play about sex work, featuring a handsome actor, and copious nudity.

Jonas Harland (Michael Batten) is an out of work actor stuck in a loop of shooting endless self taped auditions in his apartment and hearing nothing back. But he’s not putting his skills to waste, instead of taking on characters on stage or TV, he’s doing it online, role-playing sexual fantasies for anyone who’ll pay. Things start to get scary when one of his clients wants more access to him, and an anonymous source threatens to out his sex work.

Michael Batten in Self Tape. Photo: Bonnie Britain.

It’s an enticing set up. The pandemic saw not only saw virtual auditions become one of the main ways for actors to land roles, it also saw many performers take up cam work and start OnlyFans accounts as a way to get through. But only one pays up front. While virtual sex work might not have the same stigma it once did, the evidence is still out there for all to see.

Batten gives his all in this 70-minute piece (which he also wrote) and Self Tape feels like an audition in itself. He gets to demonstrate his impressive acting range with tears, anger, and despair all in a short space of time. But the material never fully explores the themes it touches upon. Various intriguing plot strands—many of which are left unresolved—include Jonas’ relationships with his mother and husband, the sliding scale of his clients desires, the privacy vs public nature of cam sex, feeling forced into sex work by rising costs, shame relating to sex work and blackmail.

Michael Batten in Self Tape. Photo: Bonnie Britain.

In an OnlyFans world, Jonas’ self-imposed shame feels almost antiquated and sees Self Tape take some familiar narrative beats without striking new chords. While this is a worthwhile watch and the play’s nudity will no doubt fill the house, I was left wanting something more emotionally and intellectually revealing too.

By Chad Armstrong

Self Tape plays at King’s Head Theatre, London till 2 July, 2023. Click here for more info.

Self Tape | Trailer

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