EDINBURGH 2019: BWW REVIEW: BABY REINDEER, Summerhall
Richard Gadd's performance in Baby Reindeer is intense. So is the design in Jon Brittain's constantly projected text messages, voicemails and clip-outs that hit Gadd in the face time and time again. The onslaught of contact with Martha is relentless and difficult to absorb.
Imagine how it felt - and still feels - for Gadd. It has been six years since the first encounter with his stalker and it has ruined so much of his life. It ended his relationship with his then girlfriend, it almost derailed his comedy career, it bubbled over into his parents' workplaces. Baby Reindeer seems a neverending nightmare.
The chair representing Martha spins on a turntable centre stage - a whirlpool that Gadd is swept up in, clinging desperately on for dear life. Brittain's direction equally keeps the audience willingly off-balance, ready to jump into the spinning vortex to see where the journey goes.
Yet despite the obvious rage, the foaming at the mouth and spitting pure venom every which way, there's a sense within Baby Reindeer - Martha's pet name for Gadd - that he feels guilt and shame for the whole affair. He isn't responsible, that's for sure. But that niggling feeling of doubt pervades. What if he hadn't egged her on in the beginning? What if he hadn't enjoyed the attention so much, seen it as validation for his masculinity as he tried to cling on to a heteronormative paradigm?
By making himself vulnerable, by feeling responsible, Gadd engenders empathy in waves, torrents of emotion pouring forth from the audience that are almost as strong as the powerful performance he churns out at every turn.
More than that though, Gadd brings his trademark razor-sharp, dry observational humour to the show. His pacing, his enthusiasm, his visceral energy, it's all quite intoxicating, giddy and disconcerting. Baby Reindeer is full of unnerving moments - Gadd keeps his audience simultaneously safe and on their toes.
Because everything gets worse with a single slip-up. And as the web of lies is woven even more intricately, Gadd flips the tale and unveils how easy it can be to see two sides of the story. The overwhelming mountain of evidence against Martha suddenly isn't compelling enough, and from some viewpoints it looks as though Gadd is enjoying the attention. It's all self-confessed - Gadd wears these repressions on his sleeve.
Baby Reindeer doesn't really end. This magnetic story isn't over - it's still a part of life. But as the white noise rises to a feverish pitch, the audience leaves looking surreptitiously over their shoulders. Martha could easily have been in that very room.
Image courtesy of Andrew Perry