The Narcissist follows the story of Charlie as he goes through therapy, trying to understand his very broken family and how they have made him who he is today.
The script is really the star of the show, with witty dialogue and reams of psychoanalysis. The delivery of this therapist-lingo did seem a little off to me: it is a good performance from Chris Rodgers, but the character seems more like a guardian angel due to his relaxed vibe and slightly judgemental tone of voice. Furthermore, he appears only to Charlie in a very sixth-sense sort of way, speaking over his shoulder, chastising and guiding him during group scenes. However, this could be a manifestation of Charlie’s loosening grip on reality as a result of his own mental state. He never finishes the course of therapy after all – maybe his therapist is real, but when the audience sees him he is only a figment of Charlie’s imagination. But I digress.
I enjoyed a lot of Gavin Davis’s directing choices, although in the director’s note in the programme he makes a point of talking about the difficulties of dealing with feminism, an issue I wouldn’t have considered without that prompt – and he doesn’t deal with it well at all. I won’t delve into a full feminist critique, but it seems like Davis is apologising in advance for his own failings, which does not scream confidence in his choices.
The protagonist Charlie, played by David Alwyn, is a charismatic, sarcastic but broken young man. He’s an alcoholic, but not a sad, lonely drinker; he does cocaine, but in a cool kind of way; he has frequent unsuccessful relationships, but not all commitment-phobes are mentally unstable. He’s an interesting character who’s very amusingly played, but I’m not sure how multi-dimensional he is, or how believable as an addictive, physiologically scarred man. His defensive humour does help create a character who’s hiding deeper issues behind a façade of cheerfulness – but only partly.
Charlie’s mother Pandora, played by Helen Bang, is the eponymous narcissist whose destructive behaviour, and Charlie’s inability to cope with it, has torn her family apart. In the words (more or less) of Charlie’s therapist, Pandora manipulates those around her to maintain her perceived perfection. And manipulative she is. Bang captures the condescending critical mother I never had and made me want to throw my glass at her from the audience.
The show walks the line between an emotionally wrought, intelligent portrayal of a family on the brink and melodrama – the last scene leans severely towards the latter. Either way, it is entertaining, sharp and a not-failed attempt to portray the effects of mental illness. Accurately captured mental illness on stage is rare, and the subject so precarious, but The Narcissist gets a solid pass – and that goes for the rest of the show too.
The Narcissist is playing at the Courtyard Theatre until 9 April. For more information and tickets, see the Courtyard Theatre website.