The new play The Narcissist by Christopher Shinn at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre could be described as a plethora of words, most of them spoken by lead character Jim, a brilliant tour-de-force by Harry Lloyd, as the troubled political cum editorial consultant trying to balance too many balls in the air.
Set in America, it highlights our 21st-century way of life as he is governed by his mobile phone and emails – in fact throughout the play he talks out across the stage as if answering one of them while dealing with a group of demanding clients and his family.
The cleverly-designed scenery by Jasmine Swan also plays a major part in the storyline, with a series of revolving, large and shiny black screens swiftly moving Jim back and forth to New York and Washington with a stop at the family home and his own sparsely-furnished apartment.
Above this revolving black set are hung large boxes which the rest of the cast step in and out of to either talk to Jim or express their own frustrations.
The year is 2017, a year after the 2016 presidential election, and it is in finding a would-be next presidential candidate that a lot of the plot revolves.
Jim, who admits he has given up politics after suffering a breakdown through stress, is now a well-paid consultant helping a rather naïve lady senator (Claire Skinner) plan her campaign.
He is also promising to help a feisty lady author (Paksie Vernon) write a best-selling book and a neurotic fashion designer set up her first show.
After encountering a young waiter (Stuart Thompson) who tries to seduce him, he promises to help him become an actor.
In between answering their demands as well as the constant phone calls or emails, Jim also has the problem of his drug-addicted brother (a moving performance by Simon Lennon) who pleads with him to help him get rid of his annoying girlfriend.
This also brings his lonely mother, gently played by Caroline Gruber, into the mix, saying she needs more loving support from her son but also putting pressure on him to stop his brother taking drugs.
At first Jim’s narcissistic nature helps him feel he can deal with any demands being made on him – especially from the senator, who reminds him how much she is paying him for his services, and the fall-out from the failure of his marriage – but a family tragedy and a betrayal by the waiter he has befriended begins to unhinge his life again.
A strong cast and clever direction by Josh Seymour makes this a disturbing but interesting piece of theatre, and a ripple of comedy runs through it despite its theme of drugs and politics in a harsh dog-eat-dog world.
The Narcissist runs until Saturday, September 24.