Pleasance Theatre, London
In our post-#MeToo world, consent and the right to be free from harassment is all-important. However, in matters of cyber-crimes, the law is less prescript as it’s harder to enforce iron-clad convictions. Gifted – which is written by Tom Ratcliffe and directed by Polina Kalinina – puts a human face on this conundrum, and in doing so is all the more persuasive because of the questions it raises.
The play opens with young couple Milly (Emily Stott) and Jasper (James Bailey). They’re very much in love, but as they’re still at the getting to know you stage, they ask each other playful questions about their lives. Jasper shows a talent for bluffing, while with Milly it’s what you see is what you get. It is, however, when the subject veers to sexual fantasties that things are less sure-footed.
Milly’s fantasies could be said to be Freudian in nature, but they are amusing and not so out of the ordinary. Jasper’s, however, are darker in nature, and as they explore their role-playing, Milly begins to wonder if the sex they enjoyed previously wasn’t as good for him as it was for her.
The third and equally important person in the play is Milly’s older step-sister Jess (Jenna Fincken). While they are not perhaps as close as siblings could be, Jess has Milly’s back and be relied upon to speak the truth – or at least enough to make Milly reconsider her actions.
Central to the play is the allegation made about Jasper and his subsequent arrest. Fincken also plays Kate his legal counsel and as the play points out, despite Jasper’s misgivings, having a woman willing to stand by him court sends a powerful message – that his guilt isn’t automatically a given. Be that as it may, it’s debatable who is more angry about Milly’s violation – Milly herself or Jess.
In terms of the way Gifted is performed, it reminds me a little bit of the staging of Crowded Room’s The Listening Room, with its intimate setting, the audience surrounding the actors and the microphones descending from the ceilng at certain junctures. It is, however, the tightrope between the verisimilitude of reality and acknowledging the play’s artificial nature where the link is closest.
Had chemistry not been present between the three principal actors, the ‘before and after’ of Milly and Jasper’s relationship wouldn’t mean anywhere near as much to the audience or be so intriguing later. It is, however, the sisters’ relationship that anchors the play and fact that they don’t always agree is used by Jasper to manipulate each so he has his own way…
Much like Blanche, Stella and Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire, Jasper stands between the sisters, which ends up being a source of friction in the long-run. And just like Blanche at the end, Jess befalls a similar fate – the difference being Jess has the chance for payback… If Blanche’s sanity hadn’t succumbed at the end, how would she have dealt with her brother-in-law..?