Review: Quentin Crisp (Touring)

Thursday 13th June 2019 at Harrogate Theatre (Studio).


First and foremost, this show is beautifully written. It’s darkly philosophical, deeply human and irreverently celebratory of the self in all its singularity. Little time passes between striking quips and dramatically existential sarcasm which smacks of great lyricism – the quality of the material is the central triumph of this production. Of course, Mark Farrelly who writes and stars, is tying together Quentin Crisp’s own words with his own and to see the best of Crisp’s talents as a wordsmith pulled together in a compelling performance like this is wonderful.

In this one man show, Farrelly uses the unapologetic gentle flamboyance of Crisp to appeal to audiences to believe in the value of accepting self before looking outwards for approval from others. That is if one must look to others at all of course – the ideal painted here emphatically refutes Streisand’s claim about people needing people being the luckiest in the world…

Quentin Crisp, Naked Hope is also aptly named; Farrelly’s performance, beautifully directed by Linda Marlowe, is as vulnerable as it is sharply tongue in cheek. Though Crisp dresses up much of the commentary as looking to the future with a wisened hope, much of the subtext betrays a great isolation in the man who went from being brutally beaten on the streets for his ‘otherness’ in the 30s to being the life and soul of NYC in his later years. Pregnant pauses and pained glances into unseen memories loudly announce the pains Crisp experienced but won’t voice beyond brief mention.

Farrelly offers us Quentin Crisp in two separate eras of his life: his reflective 30s in which his wry humour only thinly veils the darkness of some of the brutal experiences he flippantly describes as par for the course for a feminine homosexual. Farrelly’s delivery is delicately affected and the writing allows for some departures from the central role to provide some brief glimpses of other characters in Crisp’s tales. Farrelly therefore allows room for a broad view of his talents as he dons alternative accents and produces some excellent physicality making his description of one particular run in with alpha males in London particularly palpable and unpleasant. 

The other vision of Crisp comes in the shape of the older man in performance mode a la his New York City show. The earlier Quentin is morose and comically frank, the later more concerned with great punchlines and imparting valuable lessons about the importance of living life well for yourself whoever the hell you are and however you damn well choose to be. This second section does get a little disjointed and the writing begins to feel like a series of epic or conclusive parting lines only to feed into another, giving the impression of a man in spotlight resisting the inevitable fate of leaving the bright lights and heading back to reality. I’m still not convinced as to whether this was an intentional choice, after all, it would suit the self proclaimed exhibitionist centre stage…

For those like me with only a limited knowledge of the man and the icon at the centre of this show, it’s fascinating to hear of his approaches to relationships, the day to day and the wider contemplations of life. His take on his time in the dock, the family dynamic he experienced and the loves he never had are all enlightening highlights of this show. Aside from being beautiful to listen to, Mark Farrelly’s Quentin Crisp, Naked Hope is a quietly powerful play featuring a compelling and accomplished performance which delivers both entertainment and a lived wisdom with great ceremony and style. 

Quentin Crisp, Naked Truth has two more stops on its tour which ends July 5th 2019 and you can find information about dates, venues and tickets here.

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