The name Denis Pratt ( 1908-1999 ) probably means nothing to you. So just as well he changed his name to Quentin Crisp and became one of the Queerest icons of the last century.
One-time male prostitute, model for naked life classes, writer and stage raconteur, he sprang to fame after actor John Hurt portrayed him in the now-classic film The Naked Civil Servant.
Mark Farrelly assumes the persona in his one-man show, and everything about his performance is top-class. He has the Crisp look, the walk, the voice which suddenly springs into falsetto, and plays him at both middle and old age in this 70-minute tour de force, recorded with a live audience at Wilton’s Music Hall.
It’s a show full of Crisp’s Wilde-like aphorisms and sharp acid one-liners . He describes his one room in a Chelsea boarding house as “ a private ward in a home for the incorrigible”, and denies he has the unremoved dust sent in from Fortnum and Masons- telling us that after 4 years it doesn’t get any worse.
Being obviously Queer as a child he tells of being ‘ in the furnace of my father’s hatred “. Heavily hennaing his hair he tries to join the army when war breaks out but is dismissed on the grounds that he is “ suffering from sexual perversion”.
On being a Soho sex worker he tells us bitingly: “ the only excuse for the disgrace of sex is there might be money in it . After six months of it I saw that happiness can’t be reached by sex – it’s the last refuge of the desperate”. Farrelly is brilliant at the little asides, the nuances of speech, the constant self-deprecation which is strangely coupled with a great sense of self-awareness but also unhappiness, loneliness and self-loathing at times.
There are massive contradictions in what Crisp says rather than what he does – clearly a trail-blazer in what he calls “a minority within a minority – being an effeminate homosexual “, he roundly turns on Gay liberation and Queer rights.
But setting all that aside what Farrelly gives us is in what Crisp calls “ the slapstick tragedy of human life “, is the humanity of the man, his sense of what he calls” being not doing”, and his lecture to New York audiences in later life is not the explanation of style as he claims, but a manifesto for being Queer, being out and being yourself.
It will annoy, amuse and educate.
Coming in the autumn – my interview feature with Mark – look out for it in Scene