TNC CLASSIC 2016
Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope
11, September, 2021 | 19:00
Interview originally published 2016.
Through his groundbreaking book The Naked Civil Servant Quentin Crisp, in his later years, one of the most recognisable and sought after interviewees of the 80s appearing on Late Night with David Letterman multiple times and to great delight. Mark Farrelly's acclaimed show Naked Hope returns to London and is filled with the unique charm and charisma that made Quentin so utterly unforgettable.
Hi Mark thanks for talking to tNC, how's things going?
Things are going very well, thank you. I'm about to launch of two new plays I've written, a study of Frankie Howerd called Howerd's End, and a solo nuclear bomb drama called Groundswell. But...life is about much more than the particular projects you are deluged in at the present time, great though that is. My mum had a stroke last June, and just watching her trying to get around her house in Sheffield is more than enough to put life into beautiful perspective.
Please tell me you've been able to get some rest during this incredible tour?
I don't really like much rest. Life is much shorter than we tell ourselves and I like to embrace it all. I also try to remain centred and calm when busy, which means you don't get too whacked.
Has it surprised you how well Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope has been embraced by audiences around the UK?
Not really. Quentin was a remarkable human being. All of us are special, but he owned his specialness more than most of us manage. He exists - along with people like Bowie - to remind us just how much potential we possess within ourselves, and that to neglect that is a tragic act. Quentin said; "To arrive at the end of your life thinking 'I never did anything I really wanted to do' must be one of the most profound miseries the human soul is capable of feeling. So discover who you are. And be it. Like mad". No wonder people have approached me at the end of the show and said that they want to change their lives. I feel the same. I have learnt something from listening to the words every time I've performed them. Society needs its Quentin's: the holy fools who aren't afraid of being violently ridiculed in order to teach us something about the inexhaustible privilege of being alive.
Did you ever had any nerves about bringing such a legendary gay icon to the stage?
No, because I don't think of him as legendary gay icon. I think of him as a human being - tortured, exultant, truthful, vulnerable and loving. And I think of myself as a pilgrim trying to learn something.
What was your first 'Naked Show like?
OK...fair enough, that first one was terrifying. Such a vast leap from writing something to actually saying it to paying punters. But I knew it was striking home within the first few moments.
Before you go out on stage do you have any rituals you go through?
I like to read a random passage from a book called The Way of Silent Prayer by Benignus O'Rourke. I also sometimes drink a glass of icy chablis. There you are: spirituality and booze. They are great bedfellows.
You're going to be bringing the show back to London for ONE night only during London Pride in association with Galop, how has this come about?
Quentin was brutally beaten up on the streets of London because of his sexuality for years, from the early 1930s onwards. I depict this in the play, but was horrified to learn that people are still attacked in London for the same reason all these decades later. It sucks. So I decided to raise some money for Galop, which works to help the victims of this particular crime, and has so very little funding.
How does it feel to be bringing the show to an end?
It was first performed at Edinburgh in 2014 and then at the St. James Theatre, followed by a UK tour. I never imagined it would get that far (theatre being so casino-like in its unpredictability), so everything has been a bonus. I never thought I'd still be doing it after two years and still utterly love every performance. Even if the show expires, Quentin never will.
What was it about Quentin Crisp life that inspired you?
His courage. Life is a process of being battered over and over again by circumstance, other people's narcissism, and your own self-resistance. It's a bloody ordeal. It's also beautiful and unique and you should never hide from any of it - especially the suffering. Everybody today wants to have a great time all the time. Quentin taught me that much of life is tough, and that your sorrows are your gold. He sat in a Chelsea flat for decades just being, which is the antithesis of today's shark-like mentality. He was also bloody funny, and I realised yet again the other day that everyone I've ever been attracted to had a wicked (note the word) sense of humour. Quentin summed up his life philosophy with five heart-starting words: "You don't have to win".
Tell me a little bit about Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope, how did the show come to life?
I split up from my girlfriend of 15 years in 2012 and was beyond shattered. It took me two whole years even just to come out of initial shock, because I thought (wait for it) that we'd be together forever. I started reading Quentin (especially The Naked Civil Servant) because I felt like I had terminally screwed my life up, and Quentin is of course the loser's loser, full of witty, truthful advice like "If at first you don't succeed, failure may be your style". Quentin made me laugh again, after a season of internal ice, and gave me a tiny beam of hope for the future, hence the title Naked Hope. It dawned on me that most people are inwardly despairing, and could do with some hope. So I decided to put Quentin out there so that he might help audiences in the way that he's helped me. And so it has absolutely proved.
As writer it must have been hard to go through all the stories and anecdotes from Quentin's life, how did you manage to stay focused?
It was a joy! I sat there with a glass of vino and co-wrote a play with a hilarious dead man. My only difficulty was what not to put in. His writing is just gorgeous, and (that word again) funny. Funny is the sexiest thing on this planet.
"I cannot imagine anything worse than going through life on autopilot, inwardly hoping to collapse back into the clay without ever acknowledging a feeling."
Was there anything you wish you'd included?
Not really. Perhaps more on his chronic, comic early days of impoverishment, like the story about him sleeping on the roof of his flat in summer, hoping that he might roll off in the night and wake up dead. Typical Quentin: by owning his darkness and despair he created immense joy. I cannot connect with people who are running from their own darkness.
Do you have a favourite Quentin Crisp quote?
"Ask yourself this: 'If there were no praise or blame, who would I be?'"
And finally what do you hope your audiences have taken from this show?
A renewed sense of what it is to be alive. The whole glory box of joy, despair, elation, angst, beauty, fun and love. I cannot imagine anything worse than going through life on autopilot, inwardly hoping to collapse back into the clay without ever acknowledging a feeling. Most people are not alive. To spend an hour or so with Quentin is to reconnect with that beating inner voice that quietly, unquenchably says "What about being alive - just for the hell of it?".