Simultaneously playful, formally inventive and coldly horrifying, The Rage of Narcissus is a rich meditation on vanity, mortality, and sex, wrapped up in a grisly thriller.
The follow-up to playwright Sergio Blanco’s similarly intricate Thebes Land, this “circular and twisting” story blends autobiographical fact with noirish fiction, jumping around in time in a fascinating collage of themes.
Solo performer Sam Crane gives a gripping turn as a fictionalised version of the author, checking into a Slovenian hotel for a conference only to become dangerously obsessed by the mystery of his room’s indelibly bloodstained carpet.
Delivering the monologue with beguiling charm and humour, Crane handles the text’s frequent tonal shifts with precision, whether excitedly discussing mythological metaphors, singing karaoke, or describing physical trauma in bone-sawing, tendon-severing detail.
Director Daniel Goldman – who also translated the text – handles it all with a light, assured touch, letting Blanco’s wry documentary style speak for itself while leaving much to the audience’s imagination.
This well-judged restraint is echoed in the show’s understated design. Natalie Johnson’s set places the unfolding narrative in a featureless hall of mirrors with a floor as polished and reflective as a still pool. As Crane paces and jogs about the space, his multiple reflections stand in for other characters, stalking, circling and observing him.
Meanwhile, Richard Williamson’s lights rise and fall in slow waves, quietly zeroing in on imaginary details – a missing laptop, an absent pool of blood – before erupting in a single, shock-inducing blaze of scarlet.