In Naked Hope, Mark Farrelly’s Quentin Crisp is dapper.
The show depicts Crisp’s youth and his later life in America.
Here is a young man whose acerbic wit is armoury against the moralising and demoralising, ‘middling, middle-class’ family in suburbia. This is Mark Farrelly’s show, Naked Hope based on the life of Quentin Crisp.
Naturally, given his remarkable nature, Quentin longs to escape the stifling atmosphere. Throughout Naked Hope we see the charm, wit and defiance of Quentin Crisp. Donning his bouffant hairdo, painted nails and lipstick, Quentin strolls nonchalantly along the darkened Soho streets. He asserts his right to exist in polite, or impolite English society. He is a powdered puff for all to see.
A pinch of notoriety will do – Quentin Crisp
The show is a sensitive portrait of Crisp, particularly his youth. Danger shadows the young Quentin. His hauteur and vulnerability fuse into one and Farrelly manages this feat of alchemy. His Quentin Crisp wafts across the stage, we recognise the bewildered irony of John Hurt, and the defencelessness of Crisp himself.
Farrelly gets his subject, the myriad edges and indefinable nature of Quentin Crisp, who lived on a diet of luck, chance and hope. He was frugal and yet displayed great generosity towards others.
Born Dennis Charles Pratt, Quentin Crisp left home in 1930 and then in 1981 he settled in Manhattan’s East Village. He was a difficult figure in America too. At the height of the gay rights movement, he showed scant sympathy for people living with Aids. On the other hand, he was determinedly anti-bourgeoise, living by himself in a tiny bedsit, remote from the trappings of celebrity. Crisp’s listed his telephone number in the phone book, and he would meet with anybody who called him up and invited him to lunch.
Mark Farrelly manages this paradox quite neatly and the portrait of Crisp displays the lighthearted, often mischievous approach to life. He evokes a querulous tone, when Crisp disparages the gay rights movement, saying ‘I represent nothing but my puny self’.
My memory of Mr Crisp stretches back to around 1996. One day I posted a short story to his Manhattan address under my pen name of ‘Molly Fitzgerald’. I had written about a séance, whereby a middle-aged woman discovers her husband’s long-held secret. To my amazement, Crisp wrote back saying he had enjoyed reading my story, and enclosing a poem of his own, penned in lavender ink.
The beauty of the lines reveals a soul wounded by the jibes and barbs of his youth. While I wanted to meet him, I never managed to telephone Mr Crisp. Even so, at least I have this simple treasure, kindly offered by a great soul, and one of the world’s most delightful eccentrics.
Seen at the Arts Theatre Covent Garden in June