Most of us will have heard of Quentin Crisp. Although I knew virtually nothing about him, growing up it just seemed to be a name I recognised, even if I wasn’t sure why. Well, thanks to a visit to the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley, and the wonderful Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope I have a much better idea.
The show is written and performed by Mark Farrelly and covers two distinct self-confessed ‘stately homo of England’s’ life. The first is during the 1960s in his flat in Chelsea, and this gives Mark a chance to tell us some of Quentin’s history. And the second takes us forward to the 1990’s and a visit to one of Quentin’s performance in New York where finally embraced by society, he was allowed free reign to regale his audience, and the wider world with his philosophy on life, the universe and everything.
Born into a nice middle-class family on Christmas Day 1908, Quentin was always different. He was an un-closeted homosexual in a time when it was not just illegal to be gay but gay men ran the risk of being beaten in broad daylight with the police, likely as not, either looking the other way or sticking the truncheon in. But somehow this didn’t stop Quentin – for whom the song ‘I am What I am’ could be a mantra for every aspect of life. After his autobiography – described by Quentin as “an obituary in serial form with the last installment missing” – was published and turned into a wildly successful television film, called for reasons I’ve only just understood “The Naked Civil Servant”, Quentin went from notorious to celebrated and had a tremendous life as a public speaker, philosopher and orator.
Mark obviously has a real affection for Quentin and this shows in the amount of meticulously researched detail that runs through the seventy minutes of Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope. But this attention doesn’t just extend to the script and for that time, Quentin is on the stage, with the voice, the flamboyant mannerisms and the piercing eyes that really draw you into the person. Whilst writing this review, I’ve had a look at some old footage of Quentin and can really see how closely Mark has come in bringing him back to life. A truly amazing performance that affected me on many levels. As I sat, mesmerised by the man in front of me, it struck me how much in our attitudes Quentin and I have in common. I found myself agreeing to so many of his comments and observations that you could have used me as one of those nodding dogs you used to see on car dashboards. The other thing that I realised was how much the world lost when Quentin died. Though he was a complex and very divisive character, he was never afraid to be himself and that is something that is missing from so many people these days.
By the end of the show, I knew a lot more about Quentin than I had at the start. Mark has a wonderful way of telling a story and interacting, almost flirting at times, with the audience and getting them to love his character which, when you consider some of Quentin’s views on Princess Diana, marriage, God and even other homosexuals, is no mean feat.
Overall, this was a mesmerising and totally compelling performance by a consummate artist whose acting skill and verbal dexterity got Quentin back from the grave in ruling the roost in SE London once more.
Review by Terry Eastham
From a conventional Surrey upbringing to global notoriety via The Naked Civil Servant, Quentin Crisp was an extraordinary raconteur and wit.
Openly gay as early as the 1930s, Quentin spent decades being beaten up on London’s streets simply for his refusal to be anything less than himself. His steadfast courage, and the powerful philosophy that evolved from those experiences continue to inspire to the present day.
This much-acclaimed solo play, following a UK tour and off-West End season at the St. James Theatre, shows Quentin both in his beloved Chelsea flat as the 1970s dawned, and in his final years in his adopted New York, with the new millennium beckoning.
Naked Hope is a gloriously uplifting salute to a true one-off, and a timely reminder of the urgent necessity to live every day as your true self.
Playwright | Mark Farrelly
Director | Linda Marlowe
Running time: 70 minutes with no interval
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH