Review: Baby Reindeer at Summerhall

Men are supposed to be invulnerable. When threatened, they’re expected to deal with the source of the problem and shut it down. Things are not meant to get under their skin. Big boys don’t cry.

That’s one of the reasons Richard Gadd’s monologue is so powerful. It’s a dark, intense and angry true-life story of being stalked. For several years, he has been victimised by a woman who, by his description, is almost certainly in need of mental-health support. She hasn’t left him alone to this day.

It’s not that his experience is any more distressing than it is for the many women who have been stalked by men, but the expectation that he should laugh it off or sort it out himself drives home the sense of helplessness that anyone – male or female – would feel in this situation.

Nowhere do you get the measure of how profoundly he was affected more than when he describes winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award in 2016. What we saw on our screens was a man delighted to have triumphed in his industry’s toughest competition. What he felt on the inside was something different. This was less a victory over his fellow comedians than an act of defiance in the face of the woman who had done everything she could to bring him down.

It’s almost surreal to know that’s what went through his mind, but no more surreal than how the story kicked off. By his telling, it was a simple act of generosity. Working in a London pub, he felt sorry for a woman who had no money and gave her a cup of tea on the house. In that encounter lay the seeds of an obsession. In a tone of alarm, he reels off the number of emails, voice messages, Facebook posts and letters that followed.

Underlying the story is the destabilising feeling that none of it makes sense; there’s no logical pattern of cause and effect. It’s enough to make him lose his balance and reason. He can’t even tell if he’s grown reliant on her attention since it’s become so much a part of his daily life.

Unadorned, the story would be gripping enough, but in Jon Brittain’s in-the-round production, Gadd never lets the tension drop. In a high-precision performance, given extra depth by projections and voiceovers, he channels his rage, despair and fear into a bleak, unsettling and ferocious hour.

Baby Reindeer, Summerhall, 31 Jul – 25 Aug (not 6, 13, 20), times vary

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