Quentin Crisp—Naked Hope

Written and performed by Mark Farrelly
The Witham, Barnard Castle

Mark Farrelly as Quentin Crisp Credit: Jacky Summerfield

Why Quentin Crisp?

Mark Farrelly answers that question after a standing ovation from the Witham’s appreciative audience, making this an unusual wrong-way-round review.

“I was really down at the time,” he explained. “My girlfriend of 15 years had left me, a friend had hanged himself and I had absolutely no work. I had phoned a close friend earlier that day and asked for advice because I was seriously contemplating ending my life. Later on, I was looking at YouTube videos and I suddenly realised I was smiling. It was, of course, Quentin Crisp who was making me smile.”

Farrelly’s one-man show…

No, no, no! Crisp wouldn’t have liked that, so let’s call it a one-person show.

Farrelly’s one-person show begins to a recording of The Who singing "My Generation". On comes Quentin Crisp, barefoot with painted toenails, a purply pink wig, red lipstick and an attitude of chin-high effeminate pride.

Crisp’s story is uplifting and heart-breaking at the same time. He knew he was different from an early age, and it wasn’t long before he changed his name from Denis Charles Pratt and found himself living in a filthy one-room bedsit in Chelsea which he never cleaned.

“Don’t lose your nerve: after the first four years, the dirt won’t get any worse.”

Here he surveys a lifetime of degradation and rejection where he’s repeatedly beaten for daring to be an openly flamboyant gay man in the early 1930s. On through the forties and fifties, when his dress becomes more experimental, he becomes a rent boy, then a model for life paintings.

During his middle years at the outbreak of the Second World War, Crisp attempted to join the British Army, but was rejected and declared exempt by the medical board on the grounds that he was "suffering from sexual perversion." Farrelly’s portrayal of Crisp parading the streets of London during the blackout, stocking up on pounds of henna and picking up GIs is rather touching. Crisp enjoyed the American style, its men and the laid-back American way of life.

By 1978, Crisp was a raconteur and went off to New York, eventually moving there permanently in 1981. Sting wrote a song about him, "An Englishman in New York", from a biographical film starring John Hurt as Crisp—who, according to Farrelly, was more Crisp than Crisp himself. Oh, and by then he hilariously reckoned that folk thought Quentin Crisp was a kind of gay breakfast cereal—I like that!

Farrelly mimics Crisp’s talks using cards and prewritten questions, bringing someone out of the audience; Dave was chosen at Barnard Castle—he did the job remarkably well.

Most of the second half was dedicated to the meaning of life and love. I found the fact that Crisp thought we popped out of the water and started life off as ‘fish’ a little too far-fetched, but it was well presented and perfectly acted.

“Life will be more difficult if you try to become yourself. But avoiding this difficulty renders life meaningless. So, discover who you are. And be it. Like mad!”

Not sure I quite get that philosophy. But hey, he kept the humour going as he took us into his latter years, which involved a new wig and an on-stage costume change, which was almost dangerous—thank goodness for underpants!

There was an unfortunate problem with the lights flashing on and off at random times, which did rather spoil the last bit of the show. Farrelly joked at the end that it was the only place in Barnard Castle that you got a free light show. Annoying I’m afraid. However, lifted into the absurd, he said that, provided one could exist on peanuts and champagne, one could easily live by going to every cocktail party, première and first night to which one was invited.

I’m so glad he came to Barnard Castle, I don’t think he got any nuts or champagne, but his charming, unique brand of vulgarity done so well was such overpowering fun!

Reviewer: Helen Brown