Kat Dixon-Ward’s Narkissos, directed by Nora Ennaoumi, is a play about one girl’s struggle with narcissism – but more widely about mental health and its surrounding issues. Dixon-Ward’s script is well-paced and engaging throughout, leading the audience towards the conclusion with a growing sense of unease and mistrust, mirroring the progression of the excellently acted protagonist, Cisa (Bea Udale-Smith).
Narkissos was consistently compelling from the first scene, which was one of several sensitive and thought-provoking movement sections. It was immediately obvious that a lot of care had been taken with the details of this production, and the starting dance from Cisa and her reflection (Sophie Stiewe) was beautifully co-ordinated not only in terms of movement but also with regards to the matching costumes, makeup and hair. This consistency then allowed subtle differences to seep through: Udale-Smith’s slightly more vulnerable facial expressions and more intense movements were wonderfully contrasted with the softer, shadow-like presence of Echo. Though all were excellent, the movement scene that stood out to me was another brilliant performance by Udale-Smith and Stiewe in a rainy street, in which the whole cast worked as a smooth and graceful whole to represent the crowds of London. One particularly heart-rending moment was the brief interaction between Cisa and her sister Tessa (Meg Harrington), an understated but meaningful glimpse into their relationship that was perfectly done.
The setting is divided mostly between Tessa’s flat, and the set of an in-progress documentary about Cisa’s illness, chronic narcissism. The stage was dressed well for both, and the minimalist props and lighting really allowed the audience to become submerged in Cisa’s claustrophobic and self-centred world. I enjoyed the effect of the changing screen, even if the visibility of the play/pause buttons looked a little clumsy.
In the documentary scenes, Freya Cunningham and Anusia Battersby gave wonderfully chilling performances as the doctors, their confident and overpowering voices imbuing the most scientifically questionable statements with an air of undeniable fact. Freya Cunningham’s final scene was particularly shocking – I loved the ironic self-centredness of ‘Who’s going to hire me now?’. However, more could have been made of the climatic reveal, and the script was a little confusing in terms of the doctor’s mixed reaction and sudden switch in beliefs. In the flat, Daniel Thomson was fantastic as the captivatingly obnoxious Tony, and his interactions with Cisa were full of tension and arguments waiting to happen. The dialogue here was wonderfully snappy and enjoyable, and I found myself laughing out loud at some points while alternately being shocked at small, subtle revelations of Tony’s own self-centredness and lack of interest in others’ emotions (including a particularly notable moment involving glasses-cleaning). Meg Harrington, too, gave a touching performance as a woman who found it increasingly hard to connect with her little sister.
There were a few moments in the play where the blocking could have been improved as I found it difficult to hear and was unable to see facial expressions, but all in all the space was utilised well. The ending section of the play was a highlight and was executed brilliantly, proving the worth of the screen set-piece as it built up to an almost unbearable feeling of futility – I would definitely recommend catching Narkissos at the BT Studio on Friday or Saturday.