The minute he walks calmly onto the stage and surveys the audience you know you’re in for something very special. You’d be forgiven for thinking that instead of a play, you have walked into an audience with Quentin Crisp himself. Mark Farrelly, who also wrote this solo show, looks, sounds and moves like the infamous man he effortlessly portrays. The witticisms and wisdom he imparts throughout, including some fantastic one liners, really make you wish that you had the words written down for you as well.
An absolutely stunning piece of theatre, masterfully told
The show is in two parts. First, we see Crisp in his Soho flat, reminiscing about his life so far. Very quickly we get the measure of the man, escaping life as much as possible by being in a room that he doesn’t clean, which he reassures us "after the first four years the dirt won’t get any worse". In an age that persecuted all those who were ‘different’ he is incorrigibly himself, and you really do believe that there is no other way for him to be. There are some hilarious moments throughout, and in this first part, also some heart-breaking ones. For anyone other than him, the daily prejudice, discrimination and beatings resulting in self-ostracisation, these events would surely have broken them. There are moments when you really feel so sad, listening to him, especially at one moment when he quips "if you don’t suffer, how do you know you’re alive".
He talks to the audience throughout, but there are some moments of multi-rolling in the first part (Naked) which are utterly convincing. At once Mark Farrelly is the Policeman who tells a crowd of onlookers that there is "nothing to see" and speaks derisively to Crisp. All of the characters that we are shown are absolutely believable, as if another actor has walked on stage and played the part. When Crisp is beaten up which we see entirely from his point of view, is incredibly well done: he is thrown to the floor in such a brutal way you really feel as if he has been attacked. "Why do I dress like this? Because this is the way I am" he states simply, even in the face of such aggression and hatred. This is portrayed in such a way as never to be ‘too much’ for the audience and in no way gratuitous.
In the second part (Hope) we see a much older Quentin Crisp, living in New York, where he gives a talk to us about how to have a lifestyle. Farrelly changes on stage which works amazingly well, and becomes a 78 year old Crisp whose mannerisms and way of speaking have remained but otherwise he is believably older in movements and even his voice changes showing age. This second part shows us that although some things have stayed the same: he still derides relationships for example, but there is, as titled, hope. There is also the quizzical realisation that the rest of the world has begun to accept and catch up: "even if you only lean limply against a wall… gradually it begins to give way".
This is an absolutely stunning piece of theatre, masterfully told by an incredible actor and writer, and imparts some crucial wisdoms as well as entertainment: "discover who you are. And be it. Like mad!" Mark Farrelly holds the audience beautifully from start to finish: an acting masterclass; you don’t want it to end. But when it does, you feel as if you have been in the presence of both the actor and Quentin Crisp himself: taking a little piece of the inspiration and genius of both home with you.