REVIEW: Quentin Crisp-Naked Hope @Rialto Theatre

Brian Butler August 1, 2019

Quentin Crisp is an enigmatic and controversial figure in LGBT+ culture. At once a brave, totally unashamed gay man, he was also unpredictable and contradictory, preferring to walk his own path in life – regardless of the consequences.

MARK Farrelly has created and performs a near-perfect representation of the gay lifestyle pioneer; he has the camp rich tones, and the delightfully raises his pitch mid-sentence and at the end of every phrase.

Directed tightly and sensitively by Linda Marlowe, Farrelly takes us on an 80-minute tour of the icon’s life – as an advertising man, a civil servant, a life-class model and finally what he describes as a “senile delinquent” living a reclusive if wealthy life in Manhattan.

Crisp – real name Dennis Pratt – had as many one-line aphorisms as dear Oscar Wilde, and many of them are reproduced here with great relish, lingering on every syllable for maximum comic value.

Here are just a few: “sex is the last refuge of the miserable; if we don’t suffer how do we know we’re alive ?; in Soho the world lay before me like a trapdoor.”

He calls himself “a minority within a minority – an effeminate homosexual – stretching out every syllable of the last word. “My way of going on is a protest,” he tells us, describing the attacks he is subjected to in the street as “not savage but sad”, and his response is “other cheekism”.

But this highly physical performance is not just about clever words – good though they are. Farrelly tries to dig below the surface cynicism and apparent carefree attitude.

He no doubt upset many in the community by describing Gay Pride as “an oxymoron” and he seems to have little time for the politics of equality.

His vision is far wider and deeper – he is a true existentialist and though he says throwaway things like “If you can’t beat them, join them. If you can’t join them, grovel” his world view is far more than clever phraseology.

He has deep-seated and worthy beliefs, “I find fame hard to bother with; all that matters in life is style. Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses – drag them down to your level- it’s cheaper.”

But perhaps most moving, in the second section of the show, when Crisp is highly successful and in his 70’s performing on Broadway, he contemplates his own mortality.

“Discover who you are- and be it” he tells us. “Life is not out there, it’s in here,” he says touching his heart with his hand. “there’s only one of each of you,” he concludes.

Farrelly holds us in the palm of his hand and reflects the generosity of his audience with little asides and knowing glances. It’s a wonderful tour de force of a solo performance.

The show is at the Rialto Theatre for a second night on August 1, raising money for the Rainbow Fund.

If you can’t catch him there, look on line for other tour dates.

Review by Brian Butler