Largely using the words of the man himself, Mark Farrelly’s Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope eloquently charts the life of the legendary raconteur and self-styled “stately homo.”
The first half sees Quentin at the beginning of the 1970s – adorned with a purple rinse wig – morose and defeated in his Chelsea flat. He professes that he’d “retired at birth”, followed by the confession that he’d made a mistake by coming out of the womb but unfortunately “children are not returnable.”
What follows is a darkly comic resume of Quentin’s life in England – “nothing more than a rain-swept Alcatraz” – that included a difficult relationship with his parents; life as a rent boy and artist’s model: and chilling re-enactments of vicious homophobic attacks that regularly took place on dark Soho streets. Crisp recognises that he is different – very different – and, in his words, “set apart from humanity”.
The second half jumps forward to the late 1990s with Quentin having found fame and notoriety following the television screening of The Naked Civil Servant. The purple wig has been swapped for a more distinguished grey coiffure and the physical changes of ageing are apparent with a hunched walk and even further stretching of the eccentric elongated vowels.
By his own recognition he has become a “senile delinquent” but after being out-of-step with the times for much of his life, the times are now in step with him. It is a much more comfortable Crisp that we see on stage who cleverly involves the audience in a chat show-style routine that allows him to fire rounds of chuckle-inducing witticisms and keen observations.
At the end of the performance, Farrelly drops his adopted persona and addresses the audience as himself. He explains that he wrote the piece not only because he admired Crisp but because his own life had hit a very dark patch and he had found inspiration in Quentin’s writing. Indeed, the piece is a strong reminder that life can change and the tides do turn.
Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope is a fitting testimony to a true one-off and reinforces the belief of being true to yourself, no matter what others think.