So. Downstairs at the Pleasance has been open for four weeks now, and the programming shows no signs of getting less outrageous. For hot on the heels of Bismillah! (the comedy about Isis – yes really – that we raved about here) comes Gifted, a dark, explicit exploration of abuse, control, revenge and rape.
Jasper (James Bailey) and Milly (Emily Stott) have a healthy, happy relationship – established in the first half of the play with real warmth and chemistry from the two actors. That all changes with the revelation that someone – Jasper? – has been uploading videos of their sex life online. Milly is persuaded by her sister (Jenna Fincken) to take a desperate course of action, with potentially devastating consequences.
The latest offering of playwright Tom Ratcliffe is brave and uncomfortable, and naturally problematic. It will not please all audience members that another man has chosen to write a false rape accusation narrative. It will also not please all audience members that the action happens against a soundtrack of fairly graphic and often gratuitous sex noises (not one to take the grandparents to, this).
That being said, there is much to praise in the play. All three actors deliver very strong performances, and the dialogue is effortless; with only a few lines the characterisation of, and relationship between, Jasper and Milly feels entirely believable. Ratcliffe skilfully darkens the play by degrees, inching towards the point at which the tension in the room is almost unbearable. The lighting (designed by Robert Price) is inventive and clever, and Polina Kalinina’s direction ensures that the pace never drops. Some decisions feel underdeveloped – why do microphones need to dangle from the ceiling in such an intimate studio space? – but overall, it’s a well-polished piece, and an interesting contribution to a depressingly relevant debate.