Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope – Stream Theatre

Written by Mark Farrelly

Directed by Linda Marlowe

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Quentin Crisp, the infamous English writer, actor, and speaker was, in his own words, quite noticeable from an early age. A child from a conventional suburban background, Crisp was a gay man who seemed a touch of a contradiction – criticising gay liberation and the concept of Pride. From scarlet haired terror to blue-rinsed middle-aged nightmare, Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope shirks none of the drama, something we can rub our hands in anticipation over.

As a speaker, Crisp was known for his toying manner of describing the way of the lands and enjoyed sharing his opinions on personal matters – for a meal, of course. These interviews and seminars Crisp offered grew in public interest and attraction for his positively unique social manners and views of the word – and one hell of a cultivated style. So, let’s embrace failure, and surrender yourself over to the swansong of hopelessness and despondency, as one of England’s finest raconteurs and performers reminds us that death isn’t to be feared, but boredom is.

But how could one possibly condense such an illustrious career, a storyteller to top all storytellers, into a feature production? Well, for starters, always get Naked – reveal all, conceal nothing. Mark Farrelly not only performs the part of Crisp but has also written Naked Hope as a thank you to the late great writer. As we traverse the dusted apartment where Crisp spends his final days, with all the Oxfam attire he can robe himself within, a reflection on his past upbringing and career begins.

Though borrowing from the triumphantly lyrical and swaying words of Crisp, Farrelly weaves these pearls of wisdom into a humorously dry writing style that serves as a biographical nature but also encompasses a dramatic flair fitting of Crisp. And the characterisation, both on a physical and vocal level, is spectacularly metamorphic. Rubber-limbed, at first, the excessive movements border the lines of animated but ring accurate. The dexterity to perform this role without resorting to a camp caricature is not only impressive but respectful and enthralling to watch as the writing’s pathos slides more into the intensity of the performance.

Robbie Butler’s lighting is minimal but practical – utilised only for emotional changes or brief scene ‘changes’ as Crisp casts himself before a judge or invites an audience member onto the stage. A dangerous game indeed for the volunteer – matching wits with a vulture of sarcasm, razor beak and clawed, yet the kindness offered from Farrelly channels the appreciation Crisp had for his ‘fans’ and audiences. Only a small sequence, the ability for Farrelly to interact with a live individual offers an extension to rapport, an ability to respond on the fly and trifle with his cohabitants in the theatre.

Now, the concept of controversy surrounding Quentin Crisp is as bizarre and unfamiliar as ice is with gin, but thankfully the aspects which some find less tasteful are not ironed-over, indeed the production is kept ‘naked’ as the title suggests. Farrelly never seeks to pedestal Crisp, and director Linda Marlowe knows precisely where to pitch the aura . Crisp is neither hero nor villain, but notorious and gleeful.

And what a charming epilogue to a rather elegant memoir, as Farrelly breaks character following the applause, not only to thank the staff of Wilton’s Music Hall but also to speak on the personal touches so evident across the writing. Steadily the question of “Why Crisp?” is answered touchingly and serves as a quaint reminder of Crisp’s most significant saviour and secret – the value of his audience.

Accordingly, Farrelly and Marlowe drag audiences down to their level and allow Naked Hope’s key takeaways to sit with the audience; to strive for hope, to never give up, and in these desperate times – laugh in the face of adversity and pay no mind to the unappealing.

Available here until August 1st 2021

Review published for The Reviews Hub

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