The first production staged at Kings Cross Theatre in 10 months is a suspense thriller infused with anxieties of the pandemic era.
Twenty-somethings Juliet and Daniel are three years into a relationship. All seems – for want of a better word – normal. They live in a smart inner city apartment. They apparently want for nothing. They seem happy enough to sit together, him on a screen, she with a book. They watch (and get off to) Normal People. Undercurrents of dissatisfaction are there (to do with money at first) but are suppressed to manageability.
Then a parcel arrives. It contains a videotape. There is no note enclosed, no return address.
It must be some kind of joke, says Juliet. A too-clever-by-half promotional stunt. Like, who even has a VHS player these days?
What’s on the tape? The niggling mystery is impossible to ignore. Daniel hits up Gumtree, drives out to the suburbs and brings a clunky old TV and VHS player up to the apartment.
When the play button is pressed, it’s not just the tape that unwinds. Daniel and Juliet’s relationship unravels as more tapes arrive and it becomes apparent that their private life is an illusion. It seems they are being observed with hostile intent. But by who? And how?
Written and directed by Saro Lusty-Cavallari, Videotape owes a lot to Michael Haneke’s chilling and boldly obscure 2005 whodunit Hidden. Daniel and Juliet are named after its stars, Daniel Auteuil and Juliet Binoche, and the content of the early tapes – unblinking domestic footage of a completely mysterious origin – is similarly spooky. Later, as a third character is introduced to genuinely hair-raising effect, Videotape begins to echo elements of Hideo Nakata’s horror masterpiece Ringu.
Lusty-Cavallari’s characters talk too much at times and actors Jake Fryer-Hornsby and Lucinda Howes display their characters’ angst a little too obviously, but Videotape still chimes strongly with contemporary concerns – surveillance, pandemic-related isolation, the hidden epidemic of partner abuse, the sticky lure of nostalgia – while jangling your nerves very satisfactorily.