‘HAVE you ever seen Baby Reindeer?” messaged a friend. “It’s a play apparently.”

I had indeed seen the play, at the Edinburgh Fringe but had to search my emails to jog my memory.

“He made a lot of bad moves,” I wrote to another friend after seeing it back in 2019. “Not really sure it’s wise of him to do the show.”

“What he’s doing is so risky,” she wrote back. “But I guess when you have a lawyer stalking you, everything is.”

Even riskier than doing a Fringe show about your experience of being stalked for several years is making a Netflix series about it. Yet that’s what Fife-born comedian Richard Gadd has done.

When I logged into Netflix there he was, staring out from the home page. I was apprehensive as I started watching. I knew what to expect, up to a point. But years had passed, so the story might have evolved.

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Over the next few days, other friends messaged to say they were watching the show that everyone was talking about. I kept my replies vague, not wanting to give anything away. I started to see people posting on Twitter/X about how extraordinary it was, unlike anything they had seen before.

There were plaudits for Gadd’s performance – he plays a version of himself called Donny, a struggling comedian hoping for his big break – and for Jessica Gunning, who plays his stalker, Martha.

Martha is not the real name of the woman who came to dominate years of Gadd’s life. When she first walked into the pub where he was a barman, he felt sorry for her. She claimed she was a high-flying lawyer, but also that she couldn’t afford a drink. Gadd gave her one on the house. That proved to be a mistake.

Gunning is utterly compelling and frighteningly believable in the role, switching from bubbly and jokey to creepy and twisted with barely a blink. Her character bombards Donny with emails that give horrifying insights into her troubled mind. She calls him “Baby Reindeer”, and is totally infatuated. His initial efforts to fend her off only make things worse.

In an experience that was doubtless common, one friend had watched the entire series by the time she discovered that not only was it based on a true story, but it was based on Gadd’s own story – his own harrowing, traumatic experiences, which he has now re-enacted for a global audience.

As I watched, I was curious to know how the meetings with Netflix had gone. I wondered why they had taken on what must surely have seemed like a risky production both ethically and legally.

What if Gadd had proved unable to film these scenes, relieving the worst moments of his own life?

And what would be the impact on him of putting it all out there, for everyone to see, including not just those “bad moves” I had referenced in 2019 but also some unspeakable thoughts?

Gadd has been praised for drawing attention to the suffering of male victims, both of stalking and the prior abuses that had left him so vulnerable by the time he met Martha.

The show has become a critically acclaimed hit, further elevating him as an artist in almost exactly the manner portrayed in the show. But it’s also got under the skin of viewers in a way that could have serious consequences.

In 2019, the same year that Gadd took Baby Reindeer to the Fringe, Netflix released another disturbing show that got everyone talking. Documentary series Don’t F**k With Cats told an incredibly dark story that began with an act of animal abuse. Skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to know the details.

So incensed were some of those who saw footage of kittens being put into a bag and suffocated that they embarked on a mission to identify the perpetrator. Incredibly, given the paucity of clues, they were successful. Unfortunately, that was not the story’s most unbelievable twist.

A major strength of Baby Reindeer is that it paints such a detailed picture of Martha, although Gadd has stated that he has gone to great lengths to disguise her identity and that she “wouldn’t even recognise herself”.

Viewers cannot know which aspects are real and which use dramatic licence – but it should come as no surprise that some really want to find out. This was inevitable. Remember that some people thought they were watching an incredibly compelling work of imagination, only to discover after the fact that it was a true story. Countless click-bait headlines now ask variations of the same question: “Where is the real Martha now?”

Some have taken to Twitter/X to scold those who have turned armchair detective and combed through social media accounts for clues. It’s clear Gadd has compassion for “Martha”, so shouldn’t the viewers too, and leave her in peace? Aren’t their actions bordering on stalking, and therefore entirely the wrong response to the series?

Well perhaps, but you can’t convince me that the platform that brought us Don’t F**k With Cats did not foresee this viewer reaction.

Baby Reindeer was and is a high-wire artistic act. It is challenging viewing, with blurry boundaries between victims and perpetrators. Perhaps it should have remained within the confines of the theatre. But the cat is out of the bag now.