Comedy review: Graham Dickson is The Narcissist

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Spinning wheels within wheels within wheels, The Narcissist is a mind-bending theatrical experience of the kind you only really see in Edinburgh.

Underbelly, Cowgate (Venue 61)

****

Graham Dickson, of the Austentatious improv troupe, is rehearsing an earnest play based upon the short stories of one Grigoriy Alexeivich Dhukov, an early 20th century Russian absurdist, blending extracts from his classic short stories with insights into his life and times.

As he deliberates and frets about the pretentious production, we occasionally hear the thoughts of his long-suffering director Hamish in the tech box.

As Dhukov, Dickson is commanding and slightly sinister, a man aloofly standing above and outside his era, while as himself, the actor is precious, arrogant and prickly, affecting to be as convinced of his genius as his inspiration. The scenes we see of Dhukov’s work are initially as you’d expect, bleak vignettes of cruelty to children in a bygone age of Russia. But then there’s also an American country singer, imploring his great collaborator to join him on stage, which he never does, the first true keynote of a shift into the utterly absurd. Elsewhere, a critic of the writer with ludicrous diction deconstructs his work, still other writers in a cafe are killed off as they begin a justification of their own and another cafe scene features a character’s repeated enquiry about the availability of a seat that drives a stranger to violent outburst. While fostering a sense of unpredictability, the prevailing mood of pseudy ostentation and pompous silliness is sustained.

As rehearsals begin to fall apart and tensions with Hamish start to rise, Dickson frequently disappears behind the back of the audience, keeping you literally casting about to try and work out where The Narcissist is going next. Yet he satisfyingly brings the various tensions to a head, the strength of his multi-faceted performance keeping you compelled.