Narcissus. Image by Allie Whelan
You endure an interminable marathon of How Will I Know sung at a torturously slow speed, then notice the self-confessed pretty boy sitting onstage. Or rather he notices you. And makes sure you see him seeing you. An invitation of a smile, warm eye contact, he's the type who can flatter some into thinking you must have something going on if he’s paying you attention. Then you realise he's working you. Working the room. Owning it. Owning everyone. Men. Women. It doesn't matter. And he doesn't care. That's what beautiful people do. Turn the room and everyone in it into their own personal mirror whose reflection they bathe in. In William J. Dunleavy's underwhelming one man show Narcissus, the tale may be weak, the telling in need of a lift, but the teller delivers a hugely engaging performance, at once compelling, charismatic, and indifferently cool.
Replete with 80s stylings, Narcissus follows three beautiful blonde boys as they undertake a party crawl always one party behind Luke Evans, the actor. Who, if he's lucky, they might even sleep with. Matt, the really beautiful one, Mark, his lover of sorts, and Dunleavy's pretty boy know that between their good looking mirror and the world's opinion the mirror is always right. For these boys don't follow fashion, they set the trends. Indeed, lots of mirrors abound as reflections reflect reflections within reflections while Dunleavy speaks to beauty in various forms. Meanwhile the boys get dressed, get drunk, get busy, and get much more and far less than they bargained for as the night drags them down some strange, dark avenues.
With its 'night in the urban jungle' structure reminiscent of Bright Lights, Big City married to the uneasy heathenism of Less Than Zero or The Basketball Diaries, Narcissus's 80s style tale traverses recognisable and familiar territory. Except Dunleavy's tale proves far too tame, showing a lot less dangerous meat on the bone for rarely going anywhere exciting or exceptional. Just another good old bad old night on the town. Not helped by the narrative being a patchwork of weak and often confusing incidents. Choy-Ping Clarke-NG's set, costume and video design reinforce the 80s vibes, as does Matthew McGowan's neon lighting and Sam Hardiman's unforgivable butchering of How Will I Know, which may leave you never wanting to listen to Whitney Houston again. More unforgivable are the poorly rendered voiceovers, sounding like a faulty megaphone at the far end of a tunnel with only every second sentence getting through. Yet like all actors, it's always about Dunleavy, whose overwhelming confidence proves irresistible, making a weak story engaging by way of a tonne of presence and a handful of clever props.
Directed by Grace Morgan and Laoise Murray, Narcissus may be shallow, but often the deepest people are. When you set aside the weak story Dunleavy has some interesting things to say, some clever observations to make, and some thought provoking insights to offer. Throughout, there's a playful deadliness to Dunleavy's performance, by far the best thing about this production, as he toys with the audience with a confident, seductive allure. Walking the walk far better than he talks the talk at times. Ensuring that if Narcissus might not always be memorable, Dunleavy you're unlikely to forget. Not even when he says Thanks.
Narcissus, written and performed by William J. Dunleavy, presented by Archway and Tasteinyourmouth, runs as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2021 at Smock Alley Theatre/Boy's School until September 19.
For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2021.