There appears to be no stopping the number of new plays (at the time of writing, at least) that explore themes around sexual violence and mistreatment of others, as yet more misdemeanours by public figures continue to come to light. Gifted takes a broader view than merely getting angry at injustice, whether merely perceived or actually proven, and nobody comes out entirely without spot or blemish in a nuanced and insightful play.
Performed in the round – or, more precisely, in the rectangle – about a dozen lights are positioned on the floor, some of which prove useful at various points in the performance as they are picked up and carried around. Responses and reactions to the lighting changes that occur, I suspect, broadly speaking, fall into two camps. One will suggest it adds to the show’s atmosphere, while the other will conclude that it is, to be blunt, infantile: in other words, it’s rather like gathering around a campfire and telling apparently scary stories whilst putting a torch under one’s face. As a millennial might put it, “Ooh, scary. Not.” Similar opposing views may also be held with regards to the sound design: microphones which hung from the ceiling were used sparingly. But why use them at all in a studio-sized performance space?
Jasper (James Bailey) is going out with Milly (Emily Stott). There’s a younger stepsister, Jess (Jenna Fincken) who has reasons for disliking Jasper. Layer by layer all becomes clear by the end of the show – why is it, for instance, that Jess becomes obsessed with attempting to get Milly to stitch Jasper up in such a way that he could be arrested and charged for a crime against the person? Milly is, quite naturally, resistant, and in Jess’ portrayal of Jasper as a controlling person, it is her own insistent and forceful nature that makes her out to be dictatorial instead of him.
As I understood it, where the criminal justice system has let Milly down is in the brevity of even the maximum sentence that could be handed down for what has become known as ‘revenge porn’ (the term itself is not, I hasten to add, used in the production – instead (spoiler alert) there’s a lengthy explanation about uploaded videos. Under legislation introduced in April 2015 the maximum sentence for the offence is two years in prison.
Milly proceeds to make a very serious allegation, which, as it turns out, is untrue. As the play’s timeline doesn’t extend as far as Milly having her day in court, it is never determined how well her story stands up under cross-examination. In any event, the play focuses more on the silent victims, those who do not press charges following genuine incidents, for the various reasons the script discusses (and more besides).
It is never an easy decision to make when putting on a show of this nature whether the play’s critical incident should be dramatized, and if it is, to what extent. Possibly the best ‘passion play’ I have ever attended, for instance, was where the Crucifixion of Christ wasn’t staged at all, but a harrowing description is given instead. If the critical incident is to be shown, if there is too little, the production then stops short of depicting the sheer horror of the incident, and thus risks causing offence; if there is too much the show comes across as being exhibitionist and unnecessarily brutal. As far as this production is concerned, my personal view is that the rendering of the critical incident was well-judged, though I fully appreciate others may disagree.
Further, I don’t claim to understand all of the production’s features – why, for example, is there a sudden beep test (without the beeps) in the middle of a lengthy dialogue? A big ‘well done’ to the performers for continuing to say their lines despite running up and down the length of the stage space repeatedly. Nonetheless, I liked the character development in a show that doesn’t assert that Person X is totally good and wonderful, and Person Y is evil and always wrong. A rigorous and riveting production that pulls no punches when it comes to exploring some topical and contemporary issues.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Someone has uploaded videos of Jasper and Milly’s sex life online. When Milly discovers this, she is persuaded to take an unexpected and dangerous course of action.
GIFTED confronts the injustices that repeatedly surround victims of sexual violence in the modern day. But when the justice system fails you, how right is it to take the law into your own hands?
Written by Tom Ratcliffe
Directed by Polina Kalinina
15th May 2018 – 19th May 2018
Downstairs – Pleasance London