This excellent one-man show from Mark Farrelly portrays the transformation of Denis Charles Pratt, born in suburbia, into Quentin Crisp. It aims to share his philosophy of finding happiness through living in the here and now.
Yet in both script and performance, Farrelly nails far more than just Crisp’s wit here; in a well-mannered way, you learn to sense the genuine intellect and heart and mind of a man who was far braver than many of us would like to think.
The hour-long show is split into two sections: the first is set in England and is all pastels and browns. The second, in America where Farrelly re-imagines one of Crisp’s shows, includes a Q&A section which requires a real member of the audience to read the cards. This is a well-structured piece of writing; the first section fills in the necessary biographical details of Crisp’s life and how he had long tried to avoid “getting mixed up with real life”: of how his mother “protected him from the world” while his father “threatened him with it”. In itself, this throws up some almost unbelievable scenes: it’s genuinely difficult to take seriously the idea of Crisp volunteering to join the Army at the outbreak of the Second World War, but apparently he did!
Crisp was no friend of gay liberation, finding sex a “wanton form of self-enjoyment” and “the last refuge of the miserable”, which he could only justify for a time by linking it with money—hence his relatively short-lived career as a rent boy. He accepts that, as an effeminate homosexual, he was for a time desperate to find “the great dark man” of his dreams while knowing that such a man would not be interested in an effeminate homosexual. Frustrating? But that was only when he didn’t understand what a lifetime experience eventually taught him; that there is no “great dark man”, and that cultivating your own identity is much easier if you immunise yourself to “the pathology of love”.
In many respects, you’d think it must be easy to create a witty, informative and slightly shocking “crash course in ‘Crisperanto’”, simply because the man left so much good material behind him: “Old age is not for sissies,” or “if at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style.” Yet in both script and performance, Farrelly nails far more than just Crisp’s wit here; in a well-mannered way, you learn to sense the genuine intellect and heart and mind of a man who was far braver than many of us would like to think. Crisp may have long craved the high of “exhibitionism,” preferring the fantasies of Hollywood to the “bad acting and no plot” of real life, but I’m sure he’d have been taken at least a little bit by this encapsulation of his own life and times.