A highly entertaining and hilarious original work by writer-director Sofia Chapman, Untitled, or the Seat of Narcissa is ostensibly a lesbian romance – there’s desire, seduction, betrayal and the tragic outcomes of such things: a battle, heart ache and death. Yet what Chapman and her stellar cast are also humorously contending – for humour can allow us a certain distance from which to contemplate somewhat sinister or depressing concepts – is the behaviour and reactions of those who entertain and enable narcissists, and whether those who have such a high opinion of themselves can ever truly love another; that self love to the point of self-absorption and solipsism can be fatal for everyone involved.
A Burning Deck Theatre Company Production performed as part of La Mama’s Midsummer Festival Season, the work originated from Sofia’s poetry games with friends, which led to the emergence of her alter ego – the Baroness of Inverness (played superlatively by Kate Hosking). The script is fast-paced, hilarious and witty; its entertainment factor multiplied when combined with dance, music, physical theatre, slapstick and at times pathos. The cast are energetic and talented: Kate Hosking as the Scottish poet Baroness of Inverness had the audience cackling with comic delivery and timing of her poems and lines alike. Another highlight is Madeline Hudson as the maid and musician Marcello, with her hilarious facial expressions and one-liners (it certainly is a happy twist for viewers when the two most likeable characters end up together!). Penny Larkins plays the role of Viscountess Narcissa with an overwhelming presence and beautiful singing voice; Erica Chestnut is well cast as the possessive Duchess of Dullcote, or “The Butcher” (because she is more butch). The musical score features original compositions by Sofia Chapman, folk songs, as well as Madeline Hudson’s sinister cello theme and somewhat strangled Scottish humming.
The narrative follows Narcissa’s search for her “Grand Amour”, alongside the other ladies’ battles for her attention and affection. And yet, as the audience could have predicted (like any Greek tragedy), no one could steal her heart away from herself. Like the original tragedy of Narcissus, before dying she sees her own image in the water and realises her greatest love is herself. Too much self love – an inability to see past one’s own reflection – does not end in happiness. For the Baroness however, initially riddled with a lack of self-worth and self-awareness, in her journey of falling for Narcissa reaches a newfound level of self-satisfaction from which she can find happiness and real affection with another. Too much self love and one cannot find love outside of oneself; not enough and one is bound to fall for another via the self-destructive route of lust and projection.
Many argue that social media reflects and amplifies our culture’s growing levels of narcissism – that platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat offer the narcissist’s reflecting pool: a limitless quarry of prospective followers and admirers. And with the current popularity of “Selfies” in particular (perhaps the pinnacle of the passive narcissism and self-indulgence facilitated by social media) this play’s message is poignant: if the only way one cultivates self-worth is through others’ substantiation and validation – which is usually short-lived – in the long-run we may feel shallow and empty inside. We may not die like Narcissa, but we might not be able to find a true relationship that is not based on the image we project to the world. And should you find yourself in the throngs of an infatuation with such an individual who might have such a need for admiration and an exaggerated sense of self-importance, take Marcello’s advice and run. She might not be there to hum as you flee, but someone more authentic and humble like her might be there to show you real intimacy
Untitled, or the Seat of Narcissa is running at La Mama Theatre, from 19-31. The final show will be Auslan interpreted.