One man’s cruel actions and a flawed judicial system make for uneasy viewing in a play at Pleasance London this May. Tom Ratcliffe’s Gifted tells a complicated story about consent, justice and sisterhood. Milly (Emily Stott) finds herself confiding and trusting in her half sister Jess (Jenna Fincken) when it’s revealed that Milly’s boyfriend Jasper (James Bailey) has been filming, uploading and selling videos of them having sex behind her back. With little faith in the justice system, Jess convinces Milly to garner some more concrete evidence so that Jasper really pays for what he has done.
The play is staged well by director Polina Kalinina and lighting designer Robert Price. The floor is scattered with the remnants of a house party as streamers, party poppers, glitter and dead balloons are illuminated by Price’s inspired lighting choices. Portable lights that also act as the play’s only props surround the floor. The lighting transitions are accompanied by rousing sound effects, but as with so much in this play, it all makes a lot more sense at the end.
Jess’ character is a fascinating one. She plays both victim and devil’s advocate and at times you begin to worry that it’s a scaremongering story where rape victims come off awfully, but that is just a testament to Ratcliffe’s cunning writing. Fincken and her character’s performances are powerful representations of the ambiguous emotions and obstacles that come with rape and sexual offence cases like those in Gifted. To begin with, many lines trigger nervous laughter from the audience, highlighting how none of us really know how to process or talk about the situations the play examines. Bailey is the perfect creep. Despite some sickeningly sweet lines, the beginning of the play let’s you buy into Jasper’s charm but watching his personality flip without being able to intervene is unbearable. Stott’s performance is strong throughout, as she delivers an alarming insight into the life of a victim pressing charges.
There are a few strange moments that make you uncomfortable and not always for the reasons the play intends, such as with a bizarre bit of choreography, a line delivered awkwardly or the transitional sound effects, but as with the set design the puzzle is completed in the end when you begin to understand what it was all for. The play’s climax is genuinely quite frightening and there is no come down from it – you process the terror as you leave the theatre.
Gifted is not a light-hearted, romantic or relaxing theatre choice, but it is a thought-provoking and frightening experience that sheds light on issues that desperately need it.
Gifted is playing at the Pleasance London until 19 May 2018
Photo: The Pleasance Theatre