Unsparing, unflinching, this 70-minute monologue by performer Richard Gadd about his experience with a female stalker operates almost continually at a fevered pitch of hysteria and intensity, an attempt each night at exorcism of an exhaustively troublesome and emotionally draining situation. Gadd acknowledges his own collusion in creating this circumstance: a particular boredom in his bartending gig between theatre work, a performer’s need for and indulgence in attention, his own vanity and libido, all conspired in an initial flirtation with an older woman one evening who seemed in distress, Gadd’s sympathy and compassion (which were no doubt genuine and a part of the dynamic) taken out of proportion, encouraging a dysfunctional attraction.
Naively, perhaps callously, Gadd did not recognise a damaged individual until too late. Martha, as she is called (Gadd fluidly uses a chair to represent her onstage) mounts a spiralling campaign of sexualised communication, from emails to voicemails to personal encounters. When finally rebuffed by Gadd, a true vocal and verbal assault commences, leading to police involvement. Gadd’s parents and partner become collateral damage, subject to their own unwarranted interactions with Martha. The ubiquity of Martha’s harassment is made discordantly and distressingly clear by the sound and visual design, which crescendo to create an aural and visual crush, very nearly driving each member of the audience from their seat in nervous dread (over a three-year period, Martha left 41,000 emails in Gadd’s inbox).
In the material is a ruthless honesty and candour, Gadd very willingly exposing his own failings and weaknesses, the run of bad choices that may have exacerbated the state of affairs (Gadd’s previous show explored his grooming and sexual abuse by an older male, so he clearly mines the uncomfortable, uncompromising facts of his own life). Sweaty, breathless, conflicted, this confessional unfolds almost as therapy session, the audience riveted and alarmed. So immediate and raw is the feeling, Martha still out there, that resolution and healing still seem long out of reach-Gadd brings the reality close and straight into the theatre, Martha’s presence felt.
The only aspect left unexplored is what does Gadd owe Martha now that he has made her the subject of a personal work, from which he is generating income? Does she have a right to share in profits? After (and despite) all the monstrous behaviour exhibited by Martha, the sheer ungenerous feelings she eventually unleashes in Gadd, a brief moment near the conclusion (involving the childhood toy from which the title of the piece is derived, also the endearment given to Gadd), brings to Martha a full, convulsive, devastatingly poignant humanity, exposing long-standing, profoundly vulnerable unhappiness and despair that struck me to my core. Baby Reindeer runs through 9 November