★★★ | Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope, St James Theatre, London
“I became one of the stately homos of England.”
From a conventional middle-class Surrey upbringing to global notoriety via his autobiography “The Naked Civil Servant”, Quentin Crisp was an extraordinary raconteur and wit. This new production, making its London premiere after an Edinburgh season, shows Quentin both in his beloved but squalid Chelsea flat as the 1970s dawn, and in his final years in his adopted New York, with the new millennium beckoning.
The show draws on Quentin’s own writing and performances in a new script by Mark Farrelly, who also performs (West End credits include Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf with Matthew Kelly). He is directed by the renowned Linda Marlowe, who has won awards for her own solo work such as Berkoff’s Women.
Quentin Crisp was an extraordinary character. Sharp-tongued, controversial and seemingly fearless. Born in an age when gay sex was illegal and liable to land you in prison, he embraced what he was: a flamboyant and effeminate homosexual. Facing ridicule, beatings and scorn as well as the ardour of men in the back alleys of Soho, he became a notorious character. With the publication of his autobiography and subsequent television film of this, starring John Hurt, he took infamy and his waspish wit to a much wider audience. His one-liners were legendary as were his regular television chat show appearances.
Alienating the gay rights movement of the 1970s and causing furore with flippant comments about anything from AIDS being a passing fad, homosexuality being a terrible disease and his views on Princess Diana, perhaps more shockingly, the seemingly very English based institution, moved to New York and made his home there in his later years.
Farrelly’s play has strengths and weaknesses. He manages to capture some of the wit, acidity and pathos of Crisp but at times this is slightly patchy. The script is stronger in the first half when Crisp is shown alone in his London flat, addressing the audience as he postures and quips with the thin veneer showing some vulnerability beneath. Although physically much sturdier than Crisp, he does manage, mostly, to convey an essence of Crisp’s character and demeanour. The second half, where Farrelly depicts Crisp performing in New York just before his death, felt much weaker with the relentless round of bon mots becoming a bit tired and the audience participation element feeling a bit unnecessary to the show. I did, however, laugh quite a lot and it was good to be reminded of some of Crisp’s better one-liners in this well-researched show.
Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope is on at St James Theatre until the 7th of September 2014
Buy tickets here: http://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/events/quentin-crisp-naked-hope/
The show will also be touring the U.K. from October with shows at Greenwich, Cardiff, Dundee and Hemel Hempstead.