Richard Gadd’s solo show, Baby Reindeer, which is just completing its run at the Edinburgh Fringe, has some similarities with Hannah Gadsby’s work. Both artists can only loosely be described as comedians at this point in their respective careers, given their preoccupation with explicitly traumatic material. Comedians have long used the often painful intimacies of their lives as material, but there has been a notable shift in the last few years in the way some performers are framing that material. With Gadd, as with Gadsby, there is a refusal to allow the audience the release of laughter.
His story is about a stalker, Martha, and the relentless onslaught of her attentions. Having met her while working in a bar, a bar stool stands in for her on the tiny circular stage, with the audience seated in the round. Thus invoked in a seated posture, there is a subtle parallel between her and the audience, a parallel which is made more obvious when, at the end of the show, he tells us that while Martha’s pursuit has calmed in the last year (from hundreds of emails, texts or calls a day at their peak), she still hounds him, and during each performance he wonders whether she’s in the audience. The anguish of the experience is palpable. It is a performance that feels singularly necessary: both a desperate bid to gain control of a narrative and an unstoppable need to communicate the horror of it. And the intensity of that places the audience in an uncomfortable position: what are we doing here? What do we want from this? This self-consciousness is heightened by our acute awareness of the others in the audience, seated in the round, we are witness to them witnessing. Much has been said about the solidarity experienced by comedy audiences laughing together, but this shared experience is much more complicated.
© Emma Sullivan 2019.