Self Tape

Jonas (Michael Batten) would ideally like to be in full-time employment as an actor on stage. He has an agent, who seemingly works hard for him, but currently his life is consumed with making just the self-tape audition pieces for commercials advertising mostly stuff he loathes.

An interesting exploration of identity, self-worth and compromise

To generate income he also performs in front of the camera, but this time as a webcam model for the benefit of on-line clients who are not in short supply. There’s is momentary enjoyment in this work, but he finds it unfulfilling and ultimately degrading, resenting the demands of those who call the shots.

His husband, whom we never see, is in the adjoining room, from where we hear him playing the piano, an activity connected with his job. Their marriage started out well, according to Jonas, but the sparkle went out of it some time ago; a situation that adds to his misery. Jonas believes his husband knows nothing of his online activities, which is hard to believe given the short distance his moanings and groanings and conversations with clients need to travel. With no other source of income how, one wonders, does Jonas explain having money? One interpretation of the mystery surrounding events that lead to the tragedy in Jonas’s life suggests that that his husband has always known what’s going on but has just never mentioned it.

Batten, who also wrote play, conveys the emotional stress that all of this brings. Faking enthusiasm for products and pretending to be someone he is not for clients all take their toll on his life. He has only the memory of his mother to cling to; her photo placed face-down when he’s doing sex shows, but brought back up when he needs to speak to her and reminisce. The client who has become overly attached to him, disturbingly voiced by Neil Burgess, makes requests that ultimately even Jonas cannot accede to, and so his world increasingly collapses around him as his mental health deteriorates.

It’s a play that grew out of lockdown and it certainly has the air of that period about it, in which everyone surely engaged in some form of introspection. It’s an interesting exploration of identity, self-worth and compromise, but also highlights the complexities that can beset a person’s life and invites us to reflect upon the judgements we can so easily make about others.

It perhaps opens too many avenues that are not explored in depth and the repetitious snippets alternating between self-taping and camming in the early stages become rather tedious without furthering the plot. The same can be said of the prolonged sexual fantasies, mimed masturbation and anal posing that create an uncomfortable air of gratuitously over-indulged sexual activity. The mystery cam-caller’s knowledge of Jonas provides a source of intrigue but the ending is largely predictable. Jason was right to shield his mother from his excesses.

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Self Tape RETURNS after an acclaimed SOLD OUT run earlier this year! "What happens when you’re in your thirties and your dreams have vanished?"

From self-tape auditions to performing as a gay webcam model, what price will Jonas Harland - a jobbing actor & council-estate boy 'done good' - pay in his attempts to win the career he has always dreamt of? Money may be tight, but is it worth sacrificing his peace of mind, his personal relationships and the little joy that remains, for the risk of exposure as he descends into the world of cybersex?

Self Tape explores modern relationships; in-person & virtual, aiming to break the manifold taboos of sex work. Written during lockdown, a period that saw an exponential rise in the camming industry, the piece holds a mirror up to contemporary society. 

Written and performed by Michael Batten, and directed by Scott Le Crass, whose production of Martin Sherman’s Rose with Maureen Lipman transferred to the West End after critical and public acclaim.

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