Baby Reindeer (Bush Theatre)

I first encountered the work of comedian Richard Gadd when his show Monkey See Monkey Do was broadcast on Comedy Central as part of a series from the Soho Theatre.

This was something new and different, dealing with real-life experience of a sexual assault, documented while running on a treadmill. Gadd was clearly a fearless artist able to dig into the most personal of situations to bring them to an audience.

Now, Baby Reindeer. Gadd has again utilised his own experience, to a degree, to shape this theatre performance. He is the only person on stage, supported by recordings, text and characters he conjures up for us to build the story of “Richard Gadd”.

This character, who may or may not be the performer, works in a bar and has some success with comedy gigs. He makes the mistake of befriending “Martha Scott”, a supposed wealthy lawyer in need of a cup of tea.

So soon after seeing Velvet, which is a semi-fictional piece about a young man groomed and exploited by an older man, it is inevitable that Baby Reindeer raises questions.

In its frank depiction of a 25 year old service provider becoming the victim of a serial stalker in the person of a woman nearly twice his age, who wears ill-fitting clothes in various shades of pink, it feels unnecessarily cruel at times.

Richard Gadd in Baby Reindeer
Richard Gadd in Baby Reindeer

Although I cannot deny the power of Gadd’s performance, or the brutal rawness of his writing, we are only hearing one side of the story. To develop such a traumatic situation (four years of harrassment, according to Gadd, before a restraining order was finally granted) into drama for public consumption in this way makes me uncomfortable.

It is clear that “Martha” is being failed by the legal and care systems just as much as Gadd, and it does seem that there is some culpability on the part of the young man who initially felt flattered at the attention of an older, wealthier woman. To be fair, Gadd has himself addressed these issues in interviews.

It is also uppermost in my mind whether this show is good for the performer, or the audience, at this time. He’s supported by recordings (of his support network and of his stalker), by screens full of rolling texts and emails, by bouts of semi-darkness and in one scene, a chance to step from the spotlight to retrieve a prop. And yet he’s in sharp focus with something so deeply personal.

Gadd recounts a terrifying and disturbing situation that blighted his life for years, over and over again. He leaves himself open when discussing his personal relationship with Teri, a transwoman, and the effect “Martha” had on that relationship.

He discusses, again, with brutal honesty, that sexual assault which clearly still leaves emotional scars. His association with Martha seems perverse on both sides, which leaves us, the audience, conflicted.

It is entirely possible that we are meant to spend part of Baby Reindeer feeling that character being described in front of us is less of a victim than he claims, and that is certainly brave and deeply intelligent writing.

Richard Gadd in Baby Reindeer
Richard Gadd in Baby Reindeer

Baby Reindeer is a rich addition to the debate around harassment and stalking, and the issues around the funding of mental healthcare.

It brings the story of the female predator into focus (without belittling stories of male power-play and female victims), and leaves us considering why men are expected to stay strong under such pressure and attention.

Gadd’s recollection of the police almost being amused at his fear of a woman smaller than him who emails him hundreds of times a day with banalities and compliments, without making direct threats, feels an accurate depiction of what is tolerated legally before any action can be taken against an abuser.

It does leave me thinking, however, where Gadd can go from here, and whether there are any other catastrophic events in his life he has yet to share with his audience.

Baby Reindeer continues at the Bush Theatre until 9 November.

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Edinburgh Fest picks from afar

I’m not at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, but a few shows have caught my eye, and at least two will be reviewed on here when they hit London later in 2019.

All About Alice

First up, though, is a fascinating-sounding show I will unfortunately miss from a visiting New York company.

Are You Alice: A New Wonderland Tale from the Permafrost Theatre Collective in collaboration with Chameleon Fools Theatre Troupe and C Venues is a multidisciplinary retelling of the classic Lewis Carroll novels – the twist is that every member of the seven person all-female/non-cis cast plays Alice at one point or another. Adding to and repurposing Carroll’s original text, the show utilises music, dance, puppetry and more, presenting a modern Alice for the 21st century audience.

This Alice asks questions of identity, womanhood, and self-acceptance in a world which constantly redraws the lines and rewrites the rules. Iconic images from Carroll’s universe such as the Jabberwock, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and the Queen of Hearts come to life in this show which is suitable for all the family to see.

"I will not belong to someone else's dream."  The cast of Are You Alice.
“I will not belong to someone else’s dream.” The cast of Are You Alice.

Are You Alice runs at C Venues – Viva Cellar at 2.30pm every day from 14-26 August. It is directed by Permafrost founder Christina Rose Ashby, and the company comprises Marth Brown, Amelia Cain, Jo Cutrona. Shelley Franklin, Kayla Prestel, Samantha E Turlington, and Charlotte Vaughn Raines. The music is composed, arranged and performed by Thomas Burns Scully.

Shows moving into London in 2019

Moving on to shows I will be seeing in London – the first is Tokyo Rose (from Burnt Lemon Theatre / Untapped by Underbelly and New Diorama). Running for just an hour, we’re back in 1949 where five female wartime DJs perform a “rap-packed musical broadcast”. Iva d’Aquino stands accused of treason in one of the most controversial trials in American history. Faced with accusations of peddling Axis propaganda, Iva becomes known as the notorious Tokyo Rose – but was she the villain she was made out to be? 

Promotional image for Tokyo Rose.
Promotional image for Tokyo Rose.

Tokyo Rose is in Edinburgh at Underbelly – Cowgate at 6.55pm from 7-11 August, and 13-25 August. It runs at the New Diorama Theatre in London from 8-12 October.

Richard Gadd in Baby Reindeer.
Richard Gadd in Baby Reindeer.

The second show I will be catching when it comes down to London is Richard Gadd’s Baby Reindeer. Gadd has previously performed Monkey See, Monkey Do, a dark and powerful comedy piece, but this is his first foray into theatre, again as a solo performer.

This promises to be a chilling story about obsession, delusion and the terrifying ramifications of a fleeting mistake, directed by Olivier Award winner Jon Brittain and produced by 2018’s double Fringe First-winning Francesca Moody Productions.

Baby Reindeer runs in Edinburgh at the Roundabout @ Summerhall from 7-25 August, and runs for 1 hour 5 minutes. It comes into London at the Bush Theatre from 9 October – 9 November.