Resident Alien

Written and Produced by Tim Fountain
New End Theatre

Bette Bourne as Quentin Crisp

Awesome: see it.

There we go – a review in three words (what can you say about perfection?). Yet, arguably, more is demanded, so I will attempt to do justice here to this outstanding show.

Outside, the snow was deep, crisp and – well – pretty icy, actually: inside we were warmly enveloped in the deeply-satirical, crisply-witty, glowing company of classical/alternative award-winning actor Bette Bourne as Quentin Crisp in the return of Resident Alien, recipient of multiple accolades here and abroad, now commemorating one hundred years since Crisp’s birth, and ten years since his death.

Much is known of Crisp through John Hurt’s seminal portrayal in The Naked Civil Servant and Sting’s Englishman in New York; Tim Fountain’s production, written with Crisp’s full co-operation and access to his New York diaries, updates the years with Crisp, now ninety-something, bemoaning the sheer bad luck of longevity, yet celebrating his latter-day fame.

Life in America, though less amenable to the aged, offered acceptance, albeit marred by seemingly inevitable prejudice, evidenced here by a neighbour’s sporadic posting of a dead mouse through the letterbox; yet, an acceptance that no amount of British state support could rival.

In an incredibly swift two hours we join the protagonist in his dilapidated apartment, strewn with books, cosmetics, magazines, plates and wine bottles - not dusted for eighteen years, as nothing gets worse after four – as he slowly dresses in preparation for guests.

Their protracted arrival allows for a monologue of musings on everything from Oprah; TV and the ‘survival of the glibbest’; the puzzling question of why people get married; the ‘People’s’ Princess; Eva Peron; Hollywood icons; tea and lipstick in London cafes; Oscar Wilde: and profundities, from how to create an identity, to the fact that there are questions to which there are simply no answers.

Bourne’s performance embodies the character so completely that at times you wonder whom you are watching; the intimate setting allows for direct eye contact, and a delicious complicity achieved with the simple raising of an eyebrow. Almost every line is quotable and could be imagined as a diary’s ‘daily inspiration’, or used in raising a (often non-PC) smile: we know we shouldn’t laugh, but we do.

As Bourne/Crisp applies make-up, an aching unfairness emerges at the plight of a ‘woman’ being trapped in a man’s body, coupled with the realization that, had today’s options been available, Crisp may well have transformed and found a different happiness, robbing society of an icon in the process.

The performance embraces a dichotomy: the fear of being different in a world that can be cold and brutal, juxtaposed with the sheer liberation of a way of life that doesn’t ‘fit’; the secret being to let them know that you know they know, and style yourself from there.

Ultimately, wistfulness is eclipsed by an adult, laughter-filled evening; a glass of wine, as a toast to beautiful Bette and Crisp, is highly recommended, in affirmation that being oneself is scary but (no matter what they say) the bravest thing.

Reviewer: Anita-Marguerite Butler

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