The Rage of Narcissus is Sergio Blanco’s latest work of autofiction; a form that combines true experience with dramatic fiction to create something convincingly believable. His last play brought to the London stage, also in collaboration with translator/director Daniel Goldman, was Thebes Land which created an incredible buzz and it seems Narcissus is set to do the same. The story follows Sergio himself on a trip to a conference in Ljubljana, but when he finds bloodstains on the carpet in his hotel room he is drawn into a dark and dangerous world of desire, infatuation, and murder.
The 90-minute performance is less of a play and more of a narrative, and at the opening Sam Crane engages the audience in the way an old friend might invite you to listen to a tale over a few pints. He is charming and sincere as he insists that he is not Sergio Blanco, but a character version of Sergio Blanco and invites the audience to make every effort possible to believe he is him. This first invitation to imagine and believe is crucial, and sets up the rest of the show for a journey that relies as much on the audience buying in to the story as it does the actor on stage selling it. With a set of mirrored walls and no furniture, and a prop list that starts and ends at a glass of water, Crane has nothing to detract from his performance which is enhanced by sparse selections of music, sound effects, a handful of visuals on a screen, and meticulously planned lighting.
Richard Williamson’s lighting design deserves special mention for its cleverness. Lighting the audience as much as the stage at the start, the lights gradually dim as you are drawn deeper in to the story and the thin veil of fourth wall starts to reform, before you are suddenly pushed back into the light again as the story changes pace. On an otherwise monochrome stage small moments of colour are brought in with gentle lighting to change a mood. And finally at the play’s gruesome climax the careful contrast of light and darkness allows the audience’s minds to run wild as they fill in the blanks.
Crane’s performance is outstanding. To speak and act alone in front of a full audience for 90 minutes without barely a moment to rest is no small feat, and he recites the 80-page text as naturally as if each word was a fresh thought as he recounts his tale. He is captivating, funny, relatable, and has the audience thoroughly invested in the story throughout. The fun thing about autofiction is that you never really know where the boundary between truth and fiction lies, and Crane’s convincing delivery will keep audiences guessing until the end.
The Rage of Narcissus is a thoroughly enjoyable evening for those after something different from the standard play, and shows at The Pleasance Theatre, Islington until the 8th of March. The full text of the play is also available to buy at performances.