The Narcissist – Arcola Theatre, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Will Adolphy

Director: Gemma Aked-Priestley

Are you a good person? Would you donate your socks to a homeless man on the spot if someone asked you to? Do you think that being cultured or loved makes your life worthwhile? Will Adolphy is here to sell you the benefits of putting yourself first because life is lies, everyone has been fooled, and you are better off thinking only of yourself. Appearing at the Arcola Theatre for just five performances, Adolphy is The Narcissist.

Staged as a motivational talk divided into five key lessons, this 50-minute one-man-show builds the character of Will using his brash persona, arrogance and often tastelessly blunt attitudes in order to set the viewer ‘free’. The audience is relentlessly inspired to focus on their own needs by seeing through the illusions and delusions we create for ourselves before accepting the truth. Only Will is carrying some family pain that infects his outlook.

Adolphy has created a bold and intense alter ego using the concept of the one-man-show all about himself to mock the simplicity of his character’s vision as well as the tidy platitudes and affirmations of motivational speakers. And that creation is maintained consistently, often with high energy bursts in which Adolphy is unafraid to look ridiculous – whether sporting a loud athletics costume as though readying himself for an intense workout, playing guitar, lip syncing or rapping.

Yet, structurally and tonally, The Narcissist misses a few open goals by inconsistently applying its lesson format and underutilising the effect of the biographical snippets that Adolphy weaves throughout the show. Lesson 3 about love is never formally namechecked so the show leaps from two to four, while the central messaging also becomes a little wayward. Lesson 4, for example, insists that no one is as kind as they think they are and indulges in some sock-based audience participation to encourage generosity – arguably a trait in direct opposition to the show’s narcissistic message.

And The Narcissist could do far more to suggest that Will is the deluded one, using anecdotes about his troubled relationship with his dismissive father to undercut the confidence the character tries to exude. Some of this exists within the show but that connection could be far stronger, adding a psychological dimension by showing the hollowness of Will’s self-belief and its defensive purpose threaded through what is currently a series of sketches.

Adolphy’s performance certainly holds the room, using both stance and vocal intensity to manufacture hype and energy as these pseudo-salesmen do. The audience participation is well managed and when it inevitably upstages the performer, Adolphy deftly gets the show back on track and, crucially, back on himself.

The Narcissist ends in a bit of a hurry with a fast rap that encourages everyone to ‘Inhabit their Dreams’, the fifth and final lesson of the night containing some throwaway bitterness about agent rejection which is almost lost in the physicality of the performance. It offers another piece of a slightly incomplete puzzle that in a further iteration could offer a character that audiences can still laugh at but with just enough tragedy to make you care.

Runs until 11 July 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Slightly incomplete

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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