BWW Review: BABY REINDEER, Bush Theatre
It all started with Richard Gadd offering a lonely woman a cup of tea in a bar. Little did Gadd know that in the coming years that same woman would begin to stalk him relentlessly. In this brave monologue, Gadd walks audiences through this autobiographical story step by painful step.
A harmless gesture of kindness soon leads to Martha developing an obsessive devotion towards Gadd, though he ties this event to his own sexual abuse and the difficulties faced with his then-girlfriend Teri. Audiences quickly become aware of the symbiotic dependency Gadd and Martha share, making the former's own struggles all the more tragic.
At just over an hour long, Baby Reindeer is an effective meditation on stalking, masculinity and the ineffectual power of victims whose personal boundaries are exposed. It is unsurprising the show was so well received at the Edinburgh Fringe this year: Gadd's writing is fraught with pulsing fear and unexpected beauty, and its language, such as "She is flammable" and "my fantasies have become corroded", is arrestingly unstable.
Alongside this, Gadd manages to draw from this story often droll glimmers of humour. Whether it be his sly comments on being a comedian performing to near-empty houses, or his conversations with a policeman that highlight the ineptitude of the justice system, these brief moments of levity fit extremely well in the narrative.
The intensely personal content of the show leads to a defining performance from Gadd. Though the different accents he puts on could be committed to more, the quick modulations of anger into horror into humour he elicits from the audience demonstrates the power and near desperation of his performance.
Director Jon Brittain has wonderfully curated this production. Cecilia Carey's design feels almost like a macabre circus. A centre platform has a mini-revolve, on which Gadd places an empty barstool. From then on, Martha is vividly present in the narrative, her actual absence made up by both Ben Bull's video design and Peter Small's lighting, which powerfully overwhelms with its projections of the e-mails she sent to Gadd that wash over the audience like a deluge of data, and Keegan Curran's sound effects, most unnerving of which is Martha's hauntingly digital laugh.
Gadd's mistakes with an 'out of office' e-mail and a picture on Twitter lead to Martha having his personal contact details and she soon traumatises his family and partner. Martha sends him 1000s of e-mails and leaves him countless voicemails. The error of putting this information may lie with Gadd, but the unrelenting invasion the digital has on his personal life strikes a resonant note for all of us who, unknowingly, mistake the boundary between public and private when online.
The greatest strength of the show, however, is that it is a monologue: Gadd is alone on stage, but the unembodied power of Martha's presence is felt throughout. Though interviews with his Mother, Father and Teri are also played, that they are recordings furthers the claustrophobic isolation Gadd felt during that time. But Gadd comments "This show doesn't have a conclusion", and that is perhaps its scariest quality.
Photograph credit: Andrew Perry.