HARD-HITTING new one-man play, Baby Reindeer, documents the four-year period when comedian and actor Richard Gadd was stalked by a middle-aged woman, who sent him more than 41,000 emails and left over 350 hours of voicemail messages.
The show is being performed in the round at the Bush Theatre, where it got a four-star review from Metro, after an acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Festival. Some of the emails are projected on the theatre’s walls and voice messages are played, creating a claustrophobic environment. ‘Which helps when the subject is stalking,’ he says.
Richard, 30, was working in a pub in 2013 while trying to carve out a career on the stand-up circuit. He gave a free cup of tea to a middle-aged customer he felt sorry for — who soon developed an obsession with him.
‘I could see there was a building infatuation and everything I said lead to something greater,’ says Richard. ‘So a jokey comment such as “When are we getting married?” was taken as the truth. It grew from that.’
The stalker was soon spending so long in the pub she memorised what shifts Richard worked each week. She would arrive five minutes before his shift started and leave five minutes after it finished. Things escalated when she started emailing him. His contact information was available on his website as he was trying to book himself comedy gigs and didn’t have an agent.
‘She would email me all day long with things like “I’ve just eaten a sandwich’’,’ says Richard. ‘I became concerned about my safety when she started turning up at places like my comedy shows.
‘I told a police officer she was sending me thousands of emails and he said it isn’t illegal to send someone emails, as if the abundance of them didn’t make a difference.’
As the years went on, her behaviour got worse. She began to phone him all day, leaving long messages on his voicemail. ‘She made threats in those messages, including ones against my family,’ says Richard. ‘At that point, it all became too much. It was debilitating. She would talk until the inbox was full. She would never hang up.’
Initially, he didn’t find it easy to report it to the police. ‘I never saw the same person twice. Some gave me the impression I was wasting their time. Another one looked through the emails and said, “This is one of the worst cases of stalking I’ve ever seen,” but I never saw him again.
‘The police are stretched, stressed, rushed, under enormous pressure and they needed to get out of my house as soon as possible,’ says Richard.
He took the voicemails to a police station, but after several weeks he was told they didn’t have time to listen to them and he’d need to go through the calls and edit the threats together himself.
‘I had to listen to hundreds of hours of abuse she was giving me and the threats she was making,’ he explains.
The threats eventually led to police action. Legal steps were taken, which Richard isn’t allowed to discuss, and the stalking came to an end.
This isn’t the first time Richard has performed a work based on disturbing personal experiences. His award-winning 2016 show, Monkey See, Monkey Do, addressed his own experience of sexual assault. Is revisiting traumatic experiences on stage night after night helpful?
‘I had a lot of frustration and anger over this situation and when you do a show like this and people receive it well and say “That must have been awful,” you get a bit of closure on the whole thing. There are some nights I think, “I can’t believe I’m reliving this,” and I’d prefer to be sitting in front of the TV, but in the long run it does prove cathartic.’
Richard is also appearing in the new series of Outlander, as well as writing for hit Netflix show Sex Education, and there are plans to tour Baby Reindeer.
He wants to raise awareness of stalking and how both the victim and perpetrator need more help from the legal system.
‘The police need to see evidence of threats to take action, but they should interview the person straight away and not wait until that bit of evidence comes,’ says Richard. ‘People see the uniform and sometimes that’s enough. It can be a cold, callous process and it needs to change from the top to bottom. The only way that’s going to happen is with more money, more resources and better training.’
■ Baby Reindeer is at the Bush Theatre until November 9, bushtheatre.co.uk