A woman walks into a bar. It’s not the start of a joke, but the end of Richard Gadd’s comedy career.
In 2016, after running 10k on a treadmill every night while revealing the psychological trauma of long-repressed sexual abuse, then winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award, it seemed as though Gadd couldn’t possibly have any more to give. Along comes this: another awful constant in his life, another distressing revelation turned into a majestic performance – a reckoning, an exorcism.
While Gadd is working in a bar, a woman comes in. She claims to be a barrister with several properties in nice parts of London, but she can’t afford a cup of tea. We clock the red flag before Gadd does. He gives her a drink on the house.
In the following years, she becomes obsessed with him. She writes hundreds of emails a day and leaves hours of voicemails – projected on to the ceiling, played into the space. She comes to his shows, tracks down his address and his family.
Every word is bellowed as Gadd marches and squirms around the Roundabout. Words emerge thickly. Paranoid and panic-stricken, they roil like Gadd’s state of mind. Captions and pre-recorded interviews add to the turmoil. There’s a bar stool in the middle, reserved for the stalker, who is only barely absent.
But in telling the story, Gadd undermines himself constantly. He plants in our heads, just as he couldn’t erase from his, the possibility that this is somehow his own fault. Didn’t he compliment her? Come on to her? Didn’t he swear in her face and follow her home?
That other trauma and this interlock. The fury and self-loathing, the fear and the guilt, and the desperate need to deal with it somehow: all still here.
The relationship takes form so fully in Gadd’s script. He acknowledges the woman’s likely mental health problems, but doesn’t shy away from the things he did in the relationship that made it worse. He indicts himself along with her, until he realises that his real anger should be reserved for the police and their inaction.
When he performed Monkey See Monkey Do, the show was in the comedy section of the fringe programme. This is in theatre, technically his debut play, according to the binary of the brochure.
In many ways, obviously, the distinction doesn’t matter. But also, thank Gadd he’s theatre’s to love now. As a piece of theatre, directed by the acclaimed Jon Brittain, it’s supreme – and has a rare quality of feeling dangerous, as if the real-world implications of the show haven’t quite been left outside the door.
Several times Gadd mentions his award and his pride in Monkey See Monkey Do. He mentions the praise that came with it, the joy of recognition. Where it would be arrogance from someone else, it’s raging defiance from Gadd. When he roars here, whether at himself or for himself, what comes out is the claiming of a right to be heard.