Edinburgh Fringe 2018
A dark comedy about life, ambition and millennial expectation: Narcissist is a love addict, a starving artist and a lost soul searching for self-worth. Drawing on an acerbic wit, through monologue and intricate spoken word, Narcissist in the Mirror is an honest account of self-exploration as she reaches adulthood.
Like many young actors Fleeshman found work hard to get in her early days out of drama school so began to write poetry and take part in spoken word events, having never written before. Gradually the idea of writing a solo show drawing on her experiences and those of others around her and including her poetry grew. There are overlaps between Narcissist the character and Rosie Fleeshman, the writer and actor – both are young women, both are actors but this isn’t an autobiographical play.
The writing grabs us instantly as it dives into the (heightened) anguish of life as a millennial through the medium of monologue, storytelling and performance poetry – all as seamlessly stitched together as her favourite dress on the rail in a theatre dressing room. It ought to be profoundly depressing but Fleeshman’s razor sharp writing, the black humour and her perfectly paced delivery ensure we are completely absorbed.
It’s a life story, flipping back to childhood and the competition amongst siblings, first boyfriends, drama school, relationships and waiting for That Call, the one offering acting work. Throughout is the theme is that she doesn’t know who she is; she returns constantly to her sense of being a walking contradiction, with an imaginary friend – described as anxiety or bi-polar. That does possibly stretch the mental health aspect a bit far as generally she portrays #everyyoungwoman which I feel is the strength of the piece.
There is much laugh out loud humour even as the story becomes darker, her obsession with grammar proving the downfall of at least one relationship.
As a performer, Fleeshman addresses the audience directly much of the time, draws us all in very quickly. Elfin like, from the beginning she presents a character who wants to be liked, to please us, she is warm, and has the audience in the palm of her hand within minutes. She portrays a range of other characters with confidence, simply using a stance, a look or an accent (her command of accents is impressive). Director Sue Jenkins ensures that she uses every inch of the space.
Interspersed is the poetry taking us sideways, looking at the story through a different lens. It melds into the text, there is no pause, no title, no explanation, just a seamless shift in and out, and between prose and poetry. And she doesn’t always deliver the word, the line, that you are expecting – you think can see a rhyme coming a mile off… but then she takes us off at a tangent to something new and unexpected.
The whole thing, delivered at a blistering pace, is a powerful glimpse into the world of, and the pressures facing, millennials, promised so much but often finding so little. The pressures on young women, as they try to find their identity, feeling riddled with contradiction, are at the centre of the play. Fleeshman offers no solutions or cures, just ‘There is no age where you win the race’ – something many will identify with.