Sergio Blanco caused quite a stir back in 2016 with Thebes Land at The Arcola Theatre, now the playwright reunites with director Daniel Goldman to bring The Rage of Narcissus to London and The Pleasance Theatre.
Employing a unique brand of autofiction – a fictionalised autobiographical way of storytelling – this enthralling new play takes its audience on an edge of your seat style journey. Performer Sam Crane tells us at the beginning that he isn’t ‘playing Sergio’ but instead is “a character version of Sergio, Sergio as a character.”
Our Sergio character arrives in Ljubljana for a conference at which he is delivering a speech about the gaze of narcissus. Arriving at his hotel he goes on to a dating app to find a man to have sex with, when the man leaves, Sergio notices spots of blood on the carpet, and more on the walls, and in the bathroom.
As his visit to Slovenia’s capital city goes on, he sees more of his first night hook up, and becomes obsessed with what had happened in the room before he arrived. Blanco’s style means that the audience are often left questioning what is real and what is not, but that’s the point. We can never be sure where the story is heading next because we don’t know how much to believe of what we’ve just heard, it makes for a tense and gripping ninety minutes.
Sam Crane also tells us that this is not a one-man show or a monologue, but is a story. As a form of storytelling it is intoxicating, veering wildly in one direction and then another before arriving at a destination that no one foresaw.
Richard Williamson’s lighting design takes as much care to light the audience as it does the stage. It gives the impression that we are being drawn deeper in to the story, only to be pushed back at the moments where we are getting too close. Natalie Johnson’s design sees Crane surrounded on three sides by Perspex, it leaves the actor with nowhere to hide as the reflections mean the audience have a permanent 360 degree view of him.
Sam Crane gives an astonishing performance, delivering the 17,000 word text as if it were thoughts just appearing in his mind at that very moment. He barely stops for breath during the entire ninety minutes, and even delivers some of the text whilst jogging around Tivoli Park. Towards the end Crane even appears to have taken on a physical transformation, the weight of the story bearing down upon his shoulders.
Director, Daniel Goldman has taken a stripped back approach, allowing the story to take the fore and it means that what we see becomes all the more impactful. On one hand, the Pleasance stage feels like a vast space to fill for one performer, yet between them Goldman and Crane have made this feel like a very intimate performance, with Crane striking an immediate rapport with the audience.
While this cross between a murder mystery and a TED Talk has dark and disturbing undertones, it’s incredibly witty, Blanco has even woven in some nods to the fact that Crane is speaking as him, giving Crane some narcissistic tendencies and referencing Trevor White, who appeared in Thebes Land.
If Thebes Land caused a stir, then The Rage of Narcissus is sure to create a frenzy, this is a masterpiece of storytelling that heaves and swells with dramatic impetus, while at the same time feeling very personal and accessible, thanks to Sam Crane’s outstanding performance.