Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope, a one-man show written by and starring Mark Farrelly, reanimates Quentin Crisp at Wilton’s Music Hall. The play runs straight through two acts — the first featuring a rather deflated and shabby Crisp in 1960’s London and the second in the apogee of his success in Manhattan in the ’90’s. Holograms have often been threatened to help immortalise pop-stars, but this production does just as well, enabling us to truly feel as though we are spending an evening with the self-professed “notorious” cultural commentator, Quentin Crisp.
Wilton’s Music Hall, featuring a beautiful proscenium arch, is the oldest Grand Music Hall in the world and positively reeks of history and culture. It is also beautifully shabby and shows its age, making it the perfect setting for the depiction of Quentin Crisp, a flamboyant cultural figure who constantly laments and highlights his old age.
When we first meet Crisp, Farrelly is dressed in second-hand, ill-fitting clothes as he says he has become a “one-man Oxfam” and his notions of grandeur jar confusingly with the man we are presented with. Satisfyingly, Farrelly undergoes a transformation in the second act and although Crisp has grown older, he is now adorned with a beautiful ring and dinner jacket. He now finally outwardly reflects the high calibre that emanates from within.
At first, I am concerned by Farrelly’s awkward physicality, before I realise it is a carefully constructed character choice for Crisp. While our subject has all the artistic ambition of a star, he does not have the physical skill or prowess to realise this and so Farrelly’s camp, if a little pathetic, portrayal is touching. Furthermore, in moments recreating scenes from his past, Farrelly swiftly and effectively takes on drastically different characters, neatly snapping back to Crisp. Although he is alone on stage, he poignantly portrays an ostracised and ignored man, always fighting back against aggressors with humorous quips, only to be punched in the stomach or abruptly hung up on. Farrelly makes good use of the audience throughout through direct address and imitates Crisp’s recognisable voice well. However, I feel his delivery was at times a little rushed, so I didn’t always feel as though I was in the safe hands of a master storyteller, like Crisp himself.
The play is utterly morbid, as we hear that “modern science is so unkind, I could live for another thirty years” and melancholy, as we also hear Crisp has been on “an 80 year journey from the outer suburbs of ostracism”. Yet, this seems to go hand-in-hand with hope. As Quentin Crisp reaches his peak in his 80’s, becoming beloved and in high-demand in America, he is wholeheartedly grateful of his audience and status. Crisp’s words beg us to be true to our own identities and Farrelly’s tribute to this man, depicts him as the sartorial and aberrant figure of raw, naked hope.
Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope played Wilton’s Music Hall on 1 June 2021. For more information, see Seabright Productions online.