REVIEW – Devizes Arts Festival – Quentin Crisp – Naked Hope @ Corn Exchange 15th June 2022

Lessons In Life!

Andy Fawthrop

The Devizes Arts Festival continues to offer us a wide range of arts performances.  After several, and varied, musical offerings over the past few days, last night was the time to dial things down a little, and to present something completely different and much more personally engaging.….

The Merchants Suite (aka the Corny Bin aka Exchange Night Club on weekend club nights) had been transformed by way of seating and lighting into an intimate theatre-like venue for this most personal of dramatic presentations, given by Mark Farrelly.  His self-scripted show “Quentin Crisp – Naked Hope” – was an absolute tour de force.  The words, largely lifted from Crisp’s 1968 autobiography “The Naked Civil Servant”, and previously in the mouth of the wonderful John Hurt in the 1975 TV adaptation, were wonderfully brought to life again.

The performance fell into three connected pieces.  We began with the younger Crisp, London-based, speaking in his high affected drawl, explaining his early life as “a camp, affected, homo-sexual” making his way through school, art school and the early London gay scene.  Several incidents were played out using different voices to illustrate how contempt and negativity conspired to shape his views.  The scene with the draft sergeant when he turned up, hair freshly henna’d, to try and enlist in the Army at the outbreak of war, was top-notch.

The second monologue was, following a swift on-stage clothes-change and transformation, featured the New-York-based 80-year-old, now gravel-voiced media personality.  His deliberate playing to a “club” audience was both clever and knowing, tired and yet hopeful.  His schtick now alternating between an almost stand-up comedian, and a world-weary philosopher of life.  The section ended with some showbiz-style audience participation (from the helpful Phil), using prepared questions on cards to elicit prepared answers which reflected Crisp’s views on life.

And then it was over and the audience applauded.  But was it really over?  In an impromptu third section, usually reserved for those who would like to beard him the bar afterwards (but the bar being closed), Mark dropped out of character and became himself.  In what was to prove to be the most affecting section, he revealed the true story of his own naked hope that had emerged ten years ago after “a year from hell” which had seen the break-up of a long-term relationship, and the suicide of a close friend.  His misery and despair at that time had been finally counteracted, at least in part, by the picture and the writings of Crisp.  In saving his own soul (as he saw it), he vowed to help others recover from the lowest pitch.  His own philosophy – that hope is always better than despair – reflects that of Crisp.

It was a truly moving and worthwhile personal coda to what had largely been a light and witty in-character monologue.  In my view, Farrelly should always include this section, and never leave it just for the ears of the bar-flies.

In sum, this was a great show, full of witty bon mots, aphorisms and quotable quotes (many worthy of that other famous early gay icon Oscar Wilde).  It was a set of “rules” for living – live your own life, be yourself, let the world come to you, don’t conform to society’s norms, and never look backwards or forwards – only “inside” yourself.

A cracking evening’s entertainment.

The Devizes Arts Festival continues every day until 25th June at various venues across town.  Tickets can be booked at Devizes Books or online at www.devizesartsfestival.org.uk 


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