Brighton Year-Round 2022
Naked Hope depicts the legendary Quentin Crisp at two distinct phases of his extraordinary life.
Firstly in the late 1960s in his filthy Chelsea flat (“Don’t lose your nerve: after the first four years the dirt won’t get any worse”). Here Quentin surveys a lifetime of degradation and rejection. Repeatedly beaten for being flamboyantly gay as early as the 1930s, but also ostracised simply for daring to live life on his own terms.
The second part of the play transitions the audience to New York in the 1990s. Here a much older Quentin, finally embraced by society, regales the audience with his sharply-observed, hard-earned philosophy on how to have a lifestyle: “Life will be more difficult if you try to become yourself. But avoiding this difficulty renders life meaningless. So discover who you are. And be it. Like mad!”.
Naked Hope is a glorious, truthful and uplifting celebration of a genuinely unique human being, and of the urgent necessity to be yourself.
A Full House gathered in the Grove Theatre, Eastbourne, for Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope, written and performed by Mark Farrelly.
The 60’s pre-show soundtrack, featuring; The Doors, The Who, The Kinks and Pink Floyd served to place the audience within a particular time and culture. The 1960s was a time of significant societal change, one marked by youthful hope for a freer and better world. A theme that was to echo through the play.
Naked Hope tells the story of the flamboyant Quentin Crisp. He was an openly gay man when being gay was unacceptable. By taking key points in his life, and using Quentin’s own words, Mark seeks to reveal the inspiring nature of Crisp’s larger than life personality.
The set design is simple. Stage Right there is a theatrical dressing table, mirror and lights, in front of which is a wig and a suit hanging on the back of a chair. Stage Left there sits a cheap chair and a bottle of stout. Otherwise, the stage is bare.
Quentin Crisp enters, with big hair, a brown flowery shirt, brown trousers and open-toed sandals. He is every inch star of the show. Then comes the distinctive voice. It may be effete, and stereotypical in essence, but this is a voice that is capable of delivering cutting and withering sarcasm. It is spot on.
From the off, the audience immediately understands this show is driven by rich humour, clever wordplay and dark sarcasm. The jokes come with rapidity but never intrude or interrupt. The rhythm and pacing of the humour acts as a medium to carry the audience through the course of the show.
Mark Farrelly is an accomplished actor, he brings Quentin Crisp to life and tells the story with confidence and panache. He is an easy watch.
This isn’t a story of sweetness and life. Quentin Crisp’s life was not a happy one. He was born into a world where he did not fit. Ostracised and excluded by wider society, and shunned by the gay community because he flaunted his sexuality, he faced daily discrimination and abuse.
This is beautifully illustrated in small moments, for example, when Quentin receives a threatening telephone call. He defends himself against this assault by using humour. On one side there are the forces of hatred, discrimination, and oppression. But standing against these is one small man and his acerbic wit.
Throughout the course of the play Mark conveys Quentin’s refusal to accept that other people can define him. This life is a life, no matter what the cost, that is lived on his own terms.
Mark’s script is sharp, beautifully observed and weaves in Quentin’s own jokes, anecdotes and barbs. Each delivered with aplomb. The theme of humour as a defence is never far away.
But, as flamboyant and assertive as Quentin is in defining himself, there is also a real sense of loss and melancholy. The defence of being who he is, isolates him from others. Friends are sexual partners, people he meets in passing, rather than significant parts of his daily life. Mark’s performance subtly conveys this melancholia, and it stops the piece from becoming a pantomime of running gags ladled with innuendo. This is always a risk where sexually based humour is driving the narrative.
Interestingly, the risqué nature of the humour always stays the right side of the line. It is near the knuckle, mainly adult, but never salacious nor smutty. It is not that kind of show. The clever use of language and context elevates this to an outstanding piece of theatre.
As we go on, we see the brilliance of the overly simplistic set design. By minimising the staging, not only is handy for touring, it also allows the central character to flourish and become the star of the show.
For the final act, the significance of the dressing room mirror and wig becomes apparent. Quentin, on stage, changes costume and hair to the tune of Sting’s, An Englishman in New York. Incidentally, this song was written for Quentin Crisp.
Now we see Quentin’s transition to a single room apartment in New York and his successful stage show. He discusses his thoughts on religion, relationships, and marriage. Eventually, we arrive at the final message, and this is both a message of hope and an entreaty to always be oneself. Be what you want to be and do it fabulously. Life is too short to do otherwise.
The audience were enrapt, throughout, and Mark held them in the palm of his hand. At one point, an audience member came on stage to read out questions, to which Quentin responded. The danger of inviting the audience onto the stage is that you cannot be sure they will play their part as intended. This did not seem to phase Mark, staying in character, he handled it beautifully.
In short, I thought this was an outstanding piece of theatre. The script is sharp and funny, it is delivered with confidence and panache. There is the inspiration in the message, and it is never insincere nor sickly. There is hope! The 70-minute run time whistled by. Mark Farrelly is an actor on top form, giving an outstanding performance of a life that was lived. Even if you don’t know who Quentin Crisp was, go see this play.