Reviews Brighton Published 2 August 2015

Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope

Rialto Theatre ⋄ 31st July - 2nd August 2015

Walking his own path.

Tracey Sinclair

There’s an unavoidable dilemma at the heart of any production built around a character famous for his bon mots: if you’re interested enough in a person’s life to see a show about them, it’s likely you’ll already have heard all of their best lines before.

While writer / performer Mark Farrelly’s Naked Hope doesn’t quite escape this trap, it makes up for it in charisma, and for those of us born too late to enjoy An Evening with Quentin Crisp, this offers a chance at the next best thing.

Director Linda Marlowe keeps the pacing brisk, while at the same time skilfully giving things the air of a leisurely stroll – one can’t imagine Crisp being willing to be hurried. The show is a play of two halves. We first encounter Crisp living his one-room, post-war, Spartan London life – his only accessories a phone that rings with death threats and an overflowing bin – recalling a youth where his flamboyance was his survival mechanism but also the very thing that threatened him. He doesn’t shy away from tales of violence and abuse, of those provoked to fury by his very existence. Farrelly manages to capture the acerbic humour and the innate sadness of the man, the intrinsic isolation of a person always out of step with his peers, but also the dignity of someone who sees that he must walk his own path, wherever it leads him and however rocky it may be.

Many of Crisp’s views seem outdated, almost shocking now (an assertion that ‘the homosexual’ can never be happy because he’s always seeking a ‘real’ man, and a real man by definition isn’t attracted to other men was one of the reasons he fell so much out of favour in the gay rights movement, where the freedom to be yourself didn’t include the freedom to be unhappy about who you were). But he nonetheless claims them with aplomb, even if we can’t help wondering how much these, too, are simply another flamboyant distraction, a display.

The second half relocates us to America, when Crisp in his 80th year is ‘An Englishman in New York’, doling out his hard-earned wisdom for a paying audience.  In full performance mode, he is genteel charm personified, and if Farrelly occasionally seems to be mugging for the crowd, this feels in-keeping with a character who lived his own caricature: a man who, after all, admitted that the actor John Hurt was a better Quentin Crisp than he would ever be.

The downside of action-as-public-talk is that the private truths remain hidden – that even as Crisp has become one of the first ‘reality stars’, famous for being nothing more than himself, we don’t get to see who he is, and what this transformation in fortunes has done to him. There are moments of real emotion – when Crisp seems floored by a question from the audience, ‘are you happy?’ – but the production skips a little too lightly over parts of his life that could do with more examination. In unquestioningly restating his iconic position as ‘one of the stately homos of England’ the piece ignores the fact that he was far more of a controversial figure (and arguably far more interesting because of it); that his self-deprecating, some would even say nihilistic, take on gayness came to be seen as genuinely dangerous in a community facing the onslaught of Aids.

Charmed by his presence and his persona, ultimately the production doesn’t care to look too deeply behind the make up at the man. Still, despite his innate scepticism and often scathing wit, this iteration of Crisp leaves us on a high note of optimism and warmth – and if you feel that you got no closer to the real Quentin in the end, then perhaps that’s how he would have wanted it.


Tracey Sinclair

Tracey Sinclair is a freelance editor and writer, a published author and performed playwright. She writes for a number of print and online magazines and most recently has focused on the Dark Dates series of books, including A Vampire in Edinburgh. You can follow her on Twitter under the profoundly misleading name @thriftygal

Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope Show Info

Directed by Linda Marlowe

Cast includes Mark Farrelly




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