“It was just a cup of tea”, laments Richard Gadd. For him, the offer of a free cuppa was a small moment of empathy towards a lonely woman, but it ignited an intense obsession and unrestrained outreach which has haunted him for years. Baby Reindeer is Gadd’s autobiographical account of his stalker, how his act of pity crumbles into snarls of hatred towards this invasive woman, assisted by the wonderfully chaotic projections of e-mail transcripts and recorded interviews that whirl around Gadd. He intimately details how this little gesture spiralled out of control, sometimes literally sitting atop a revolving turntable inside the circular Summerhall Roundabout. But his complex and engaging show demonstrates the multiple factors that led to this situation, and how nothing is defined by a single moment.
Richard Gadd won 2016’s Edinburgh Comedy Award for his show Monkey See, Monkey Do, a courageous semi-stand-up set that detailed Gadd’s grooming and sexual assault by an older man. Be prepared, Baby Reindeer is even more uncomfortable; Gadd’s survivor’s guilt fuelling masculine insecurities that are aided by his self-ashamed “embarrassment” over his transgender girlfriend Teri. All this anxiety and guilt over this anxiety creates an intricate emotional web that makes Gadd initially indulgent of his stalker, Martha, even if her heteronormative reassurances are only surface level, and quickly got out of hand. It speaks to a broader maturity that Gadd is able to be so self-reflective and insightful over an extremely personal story, which could have justifiably featured mainly self-pity but instead reaches for sympathy for all its occupants, even Martha.
It’s hard to criticise someone baring their soul, and thankfully there is little need to here, Gadd being especially convincing when reliving his outrage and delivering hoarse descriptions of his torment. Yet there are moments when Gadd’s intensity undermines his ability to be genuine. He certainly articulates his vulnerability, but his performance cannot be quite as open. When sitting down amongst audience members, Gadd stands out a little too much to nonchalantly sink into the crowd.
However, this is only a minor complaint in an otherwise devastating show. Gadd spends the performance wrestling with invisible demons, whether regretting his insecurities with Teri, staring above into a spotlight during frustrating interviews with the police, or throwing around an unoccupied barstool that represents the omnipresent Martha. You can feel the emanating catharsis of Gadd telling his story, even if it offers no real solution. It’s a testament to this show that, after the moving exorcism of emotions, you sincerely hope that Gadd is now, finally, free.
Baby Reindeer is on at Roundabout @ Summerhall (Venue 26)
At varying times until the 25th August (excluding 13th and 20th)
Tickets available here
Photo credit: Andrew Perry