written and directed by
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Quentin Crisp’s birth Tim Fountain’s play on the life and times of the famous eccentric returns to the theatre with Bette Bourne reprising the role of the formidable wit once more.
The one-man show has been much lauded, winning awards and transferring to New York after its initial British run.
It takes place inside Crisp’s legendary and filthy, one-room, New York boarding room where the audience is given a verbal dissertation on life and living.
The small space of the New End Theatre gives Bette Bourne’s performance intimate authority as he performs the thoughts of the effeminate, frail, disheveled dandy of ninety.
The writing is sharp, borrowing heavily from Crisp’s autobiography The Naked Civil Servant, his public repartee, his private records and his infrequent work in the press. The faithfulness of the script to those original texts manages to strike a tone of immediacy and familiarity and, despite the vast variety of topics, each is covered smoothly in the script as Crisp awaits his guests.
It refuses to play up to the potential hilarity of the points that Quentin makes and, with subtlety and nonchalance, perfectly pitches a portrait of the man.
As Crisp, Bourne discusses the death of Princess Diana, oral sex and anal sex, household chores and working life, love, politics, philosophy and even Oprah with grace. We can closely observe the twinkle in his eyes, the dryness of each wry smile, the shuffle of his feet and the struggle for comfort through the cold, long day. However, the comic timing and projection occasionally falter and fall into mere mumbles and unfortunately our magical intimacy is temporarily relinquished.
A two hour monologue is a tall order for any actor and it is notable that only by the second act is Bourne in full stride and able to fly through the material with the haunting showmanship we have come to expect.
Crisp was, and indeed remains, a queer icon. He defiantly refused to pander to conventional living and did not consider being in-the-closet an option. To attest to his personality and bravery, Sting’s song An Englishman in New York was inspired by him and a film of the same name has recently premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival.
This play is a crucial part of the deserved global homage to an LGBT trailblazer and is fast becoming an indelible part of the community’s cultural canon.