Tom Ratcliffe’s Gifted is a timely and challenging show, delving into the murley world of sex, consent and revenge.
Gifted tells the story of Millie (Emily Stott) who experiences an ultimate betrayal at the hands of her much loved boyfriend Jasper (James Bailey). It emerges he’s secretly filmed them having sex on multiple occasions, selling the footage online in order to pay for a month backpacking abroad. With all the hallmarks of a brilliant revenge drama, Millie’s then coerced by her step-sister (Jenna Fincken) into taking justice into her own hands. Not just for her, but for all the people who never got the opportunity to speak out about sexual abuse.
Gifted is by no means an easy watch, and poses some supremely difficult questions that I’m still trying to answer days after. The strength of the script lies in its understanding and treatment of the issue of consent. Ratcliffe doesn’t give the audience a clear cut get-out of the plays moral dilemma – he presents the story as it should be: uncomfortable, testing and unanswerable. The staging and lighting are refreshingly innovative for black box theatre; the stage is strewn with the remnants of a wild party. At various points, microphones drop from the ceiling – drawing the actors out of naturalistic scenes and into the narration of the more difficult material of the script. The stage is lit on all four sides with portable lights which the actors move around to reframe the space, particularly brilliant when they form the flickering computer screen Millie watches late into the night when she discoverers the videos.
The script plays its cards close to its chest, and a fair bit of the second half doesn’t make a huge amount of sense until the heart-dropping finale. The audience has to work backwards, dismantling and reconstructing their preconceptions of the story and the characters. In parts, it perhaps teeters dangerously into reductive conversations about rape – but this isn’t the shows intention. While watching, you have to give it the benefit of the doubt and put trust in Ratcliffe’s clever scriptwriting. Whether this kind of structure is your cup of tea or not, Gifted is the rare kind of show which an audience leaves bursting with conversation and questions to hash out after the lights go down.