“Why did I drink it?” “Who is Richard Gadd?” “Why did I say that?” The doubt and shame riddled questions echo amid raucous simian screeches. The enigma of a traumatic event in Gadd’s life is gradually and painfully unpicked in his comedy-as-therapy set at Soho Theatre.
Gadd’s previous show, Waiting for Gaddot was lauded at the Edinburgh Fringe but given mixed reviews in the mainstream press. This monkey-show kicks off with these reviews being listed in order from best to worst. ‘Uproarious high-concept comedy – 4 stars’ proclaims the Guardian all the way to ‘Gadd ‘heckled’ by crowd during ‘embarrassing’ London show – Evening Standard’. It’s almost as if the audience is being forewarned ‘I know you’ve already paid to be here – but this may not be for you’.
Richard Gadd’s multimedia performance begins on-screen with the eponymous character being aggressively throttled by an ape (well, a man in an ape costume). He escapes and they give chase. The harder Gadd tries to evade his pursuer, the closer it gets; cutting him off at every turn. Thus establishing the theme that runs throughout the performance: Gadd is perpetually haunted by some, as yet unclear, monkey on his back.
The action segues from the screen to the stage as Gadd makes his entrance, still running from the ape, he mounts a treadmill where he remains for almost the entire hour’s performance. At the very least it should be noted that the set is an impressive show of stamina. Not to mention co-ordination, timing and video-editing.
The audience are dragged through dizzying scenes. One minute we’re in training with Gadd as he prepares for the Man’s Man competition…in Mansfield, presented by Jason Manford. The next the pace slows and we’re sitting in on a reconstructed conversation with his therapist, using googley eyes stuck on a pair of upside down chins. The next a quick-cut of Gadd vomiting. The next he’s buoyed by the motivational speeches of his inner monologue. The next he’s interrupted by a moment of crippling self-doubt and the squawking of that familiar monkey. “What happened?” “Why did I drink it?” rings out again.
The details of the ‘event’ are hazy but we slowly become more and more aware of what has occurred. As if we are collectively straining to gather the memory from a blackout night of hard drugs and booze.
The set flip-flops between rom-com-esque gags about male insecurity, an analysis of the limbic system, and grindhouse nihilism, without faltering. Just as you settle in for one ‘bit’, the pace changes. It makes for challenging and uncomfortable viewing, which is appropriate.
The set reaches a glum denouement. For the first time in the performance Gadd dismounts the treadmill. Silent and dejected, he takes a few sips of water and walks towards the edge of the stage. I was half expecting to hear ‘BA-DAAA!’ and a liberal waving of jazz-hands as he bows, thanks the audience, and jogs off stage. Instead we are given insight into the inspiration for the show. Richard was the victim of a sexual assault that for years has thrown up questions of his ‘manliness’, his sexuality and his worthiness. Analysing and then meta-analysing the event and his day-to-day interactions plunge him into a spiral of neurosis that he has, in part, used comedy to overcome.
Gadd mentions some charities that do excellent work in this field and waves at some leaflets that have been left by the exit. He implores us to forego stoicism, to talk it out, to overcome society’s unrealistic expectations of what a man should be, to question the very nature of ‘manliness’ and male sexuality, to seek help when you need it.
The shows raps up to generous applause. Like it or not, everyone feels Gadd’s pain and admires his stand.