Gadd gives an intense, arresting performance in this self-penned piece about him and his stalker, Martha. Maggie Kelly reviews Baby Reindeer:

Baby Reindeer is haunted.

It’s haunted by an empty bar stool in the centre of the stage. The absence stares outwards, revolving around the Roundabout space with an unnerving, piercing serenity.

This absence-in-a-chair is introduced as 45-year-old Martha. Richard Gadd met Martha when she started frequenting a bar he worked at six years ago; she said she was a lawyer but couldn’t afford a cup of tea.

Gadd bought her the cup of tea. He also, for self-admitted selfish reasons, started flirting with her. And so begins a saga that has continued through his career, through his award-winning Edinburgh Comedy Award 2016 (for Monkey See Monkey Do) and potentially even to this evening’s performance.

Richard Gadd (image courtesy of Andrew Perry)

Gadd is electric onstage; it feels like the tech of the show beats in his very blood. He buzzes and writhes around the space, narrating the story of Martha and the development of her obsession with him – her finding his home address, her calling his parents, her threatening voicemails slapped across the Roundabout ceiling. The pace is pitch-perfect, careening through the narrative with a furious drive and a rattle of fear.

Baby Reindeer Roundabout Summerhall
Richard Gadd

But Baby Reindeer isn’t just about Martha. In fact, it ends up centering much more on Gadd himself. What starts as a dissection of unease, fear and threats is layered with a parallel analysis of Gadd’s own masculinity. Because, at the start, Martha’s actions arise from a situation within which he’s complicit. He explains how he feeds off the original bar flirtation, excited by the fact that she perceives him as he wants to be perceived – a sexual, masculine being. In a relationship with a trans woman at the time, as a comedian struggling to make a living and pulling pints near Holloway Road in order to make his rent, the fact that a strange woman latches on to him polishes his ego.

He looks at her with pity; she’s vulnerable.

He can make her feel better.

Baby Reindeer Roundabout Summerhall
Richard Gadd

The Baby Reindeer commentary pushes its subject matter to new heights. The police says there’s nothing they can do unless Gadd can prove there’s an actual threat.

They ask him if he’s scared of her.

He pauses

and says no,

no of course he’s not scared of her.

Because she’s a woman and he’s a man and he masturbates over her sometimes for odd, bizarre reasons that he doesn’t quite understand. Ownership? Control?

Baby Reindeer Roundabout Summerhall
Richard Gadd (image courtesy of Andrew Perry)

And despite the eventual restraining order, she continues to find ways to communicate with him and his family. She might even be in the venue now, watching the show. The absence of Martha, beforehand safely fixed to her bar stool position with beams of light, is suddenly let loose on the audience, perching on each chair in the venue.

Baby Reindeer displays the world through Gadd’s constant, on-guard eyes, and for a split second his fear is universal.

★★★★☆

Baby Reindeer is now playing at Roundabout @ Summerhall until 25 August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.