Richard Gadd pours a free cup of tea to a stranger at a bar – she comes back. Richard Gadd pours a free cup of tea to a stranger at a bar – she comes back. Richard Gadd pours a free cup of tea to a stranger at a bar – she comes back – and Richard Gadd has a stalker.
Baby Reindeer feels like an exorcism in action
Baby Reindeer is a personal narrative performed by Gadd himself. It outlines three years of his life where the presence of a stalker, Martha, undermined his career, dreams, and existing relationships. It is sparky and threatening. Gadd’s performance is electric, simultaneously self-deprecating whilst being emotionally furious. Baby Reindeer feels like an exorcism in action: that by doing this play, the presence of Martha might be eradicated once and for all.
Gadd is a performer and his performance is personal. Within minutes, he holds the audience in his hands and arbitrates their emotions in a story which is just as complex as it is unsettling. He has memorised every single email from his stalker which appears in the show. He has a comprehensive catalogue of phone calls, interviews, and police statements in the forefront of his mind and each of them are brutal rather than bureaucratic. Gadd’s mind is a filing cabinet within which some of the most unsettling aspects of human nature are carefully allocated. This play is a saga.
Gadd is a comedian. Although a stalking narrative might not seem like a natural space for humour, he fully captures the absurdity of being stalked within his one-man show. Baby Reindeer is such a sensitive space. Gadd unleashes the problem of Martha within the opening, but she is – possibly for the first time in three years – not present. Martha is played by a red-velvet barstool, which revolves on a raised podium, always watching him. And something about the bar stool is terrifying. I’ve never been frightened of an item of furniture before but there is indeed a first time for everything. Martha as a stool is terrifying. Martha as a manipulative, extremely diligent and aggressively driven ruiner of lives – is the stuff of nightmares. Gadd positions her as a jealous god. She has the power to infiltrate the smallest of details and then annihilate the sacred substance upon which the memoria of life are built.
Gadd is a force in constant isolation. He cannot reciprocate the psychological attentiveness that his girlfirend allocates him. When Martha interrupts one of Gadd’s comic routines and sees his girlfriend, she attacks her. That is the beginning of the end, and the awful crossroads that this play presents is that the things you hold sacred, that you hold as inexorable, can be ransacked by another person with very little recourse from the law. Martha burns Gadd’s safe structures to the ground - be they his girlfriend, his family – even his relationship with his landlord. Within that is a collateral damage. He is isolated regardless of whether he is the victim or the agitator – and Gadd admits that this role changes.
Baby Reindeer is a waking nightmare. I have never felt so transfixed and terrified in a theatrical space. Gadd is welcoming and yet his narrative is so intimidating it seeps into the floor and the roof of the space. Roundabout captures the claustrophobia perfectly with long, curved projections, the rotating and ever-present barstool representing Martha’s meticulous gaze, and spotlights on Gadd when he reveals his innermost demons.
The show has moments where it is sympathetic – Martha is not a villain. Martha is a personality that needs some form of support that Gadd cannot (and should not) give. Gadd outlines his complicity in the entire thing – that being the focus of such intense female attention actually fed his own need to feel pursued, to feel masculine. Martha’s current restraining order means that she cannot attend Baby Reindeer, but Gadd recognises that one day she might – and she will certainly find out about it. After thousands of abusive emails, aggressive phone calls to both Gadd and his family, and unusual packages in the post – Gadd’s story is still not over. And this makes Baby Reindeer a harrowing and informative insight into the psychology of stalking.