When asked to what he attributed his longevity Quentin Crisp replied ‘Bad luck’.
Paul Capsis is Quentin Crisp in this astonishing, gripping bravura performance.
This monologue by Tim Fountain based on Crisp’s books is flamboyant and acerbically witty – at times outrageously so. A case in point is Crisps’ comments on the death of Princess Diana.
As deftly directed by Gary Abrahams, designed with flair by Romanie Harper, and with atmospheric lighting by Rob Sowinksi, this production sizzles. Capsis plays Crisp with panache and superb timing.
For those not in the know, Quentin Crisp was an English writer, perhaps best known for his memoir The Naked Civil Servant and his one-man stage show, An Evening with Quentin Crisp. A charming and erudite yet acerbic raconteur, Crisp delighted audiences and readers with the story of his life – most particularly his work as a nude model , actor and rent-boy – and the difficulties he faced living as an openly homosexual man in mid-twentieth century Britain.
Crisp presented a severe frosty image to the outside world and became an iconic figure who was decried for what he said but loved for the way he said it .
In this production we meet Capsis as Crisp towards the end of Crisp’s life in his famously filthy and dingy flat in New York for a heart to heart about Life as only Crisp knows it . The bed is stained, the furniture shabby, dishes unwashed, there are books and litter everywhere. The mirror is smudged. There are a couple of lamps and a black clunky telephone of the period. Crisp is asleep under a dirty blanket when the audience enters. He is watching Ophra on his small TV.
The play looks at Crisp’s thoughts on Margaret Thatcher, politics in general, the difference between the UK and the US , books and writers, and how it feels like being an outsider.
A major theme was Crisp’s lack of acceptance of himself as a homosexual and his search for a sense of personal identity; longing to not just be noticed but also recognised.
Crisp suffered severely from eczema so we see Capsis covered in bandages and scratching. In this revealing show we also see him stripped to his underwear and with a support girdle. At times he looks like the ghost of a Hogarthian drawing of a decadent, debauched French aristocrat just before the Revolution. For some of the show Crisp is in a grey dressing gown and we see him put on his ‘social’ exterior and makeup with a jaunty coloured black velvet suit with pink shirt and red hat, dressing for the expected guests Black and Brown who never arrive.
With the Crisp drawl (which Caspis has caught to perfection ), the makeup , the hairpiece and doddering physicality Capsis’ performance could be seen as a little over the top and grotesque but Capsis reveals the complexities and hidden vulnerability beneath the surface – his façade of confidence.
Capsis ‘ charismatic, very physical- he growls, he purrs- demolishes the fourth wall and reduces the distance between character and performer to next to nothing. Crisp speaks out about the search for justice and the alleviation of suffering in a compelling performance.
Running time – 80 minutes straight through.
RESIDENT ALIEN is playing the downstairs Reginald theatre at the Seymour Centre until 23 July.