Article Title:Review: Watson's Crisp reveals gentle humanity
Category:Performance
Author or Credit:Jay Bennie
Published on:14th February 2008 - 11:18 pm
Published by:GayNZ.com
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Story ID:5587
Text:Resident Alien by Tim Fountain Dir: Amanda Rees Featuring John Watson Tapac Theatre Until Feb 23, in conjunction with the Hero Festival Quentin Crisp was famously contradictory. A man who despised self-seeking fame in others, he rode his own fame mercilessly, using it to his own ends in the same way that he created his own sharp eyed but world-weary persona and trotted it out at the drop of a hat, or at least the drop of a restaurant tab. He was an inveterate sponger who knew to the last cent the value others placed on his wit and iconic status, who crafted a public image of incisive simplicity, thus diverting attention from the underlying complexity of his life experiences and views. Crisp's autobiographies are essentially monologues, peppered with arch dissertations that revealed the sharp mind behind the affected drollery. It can't have been too difficult for playwright Tim Fountain to pick and choose from the thousands of bon mots and epigrams and string them together into Resident Alien, the one man play performed by John Watson at the Tapac Theatre at Western Springs in conjunction with the Hero Festival. The art in crafting something more than the theatrical equivalent of a string of matched pearls from this type of material is usually to bring a sense of purpose and a compelling personality to the piece. Fountain ignores purpose and just lets Crisp natter on in a flow of consciousness directed at an audience which just happens to  have dropped by as he prepares to be taken out for an almost free lunch. So the burden falls on Watson to create an engaging personality and thus establish a bond with the audience which must empathise with the character or all is lost. John Watson as Quentin Crisp Watson achieves this empathy, carefully avoiding the theatrical campness which might have been irresistible to a less confident performer. Moving stiffly around John Parker's simple but cluttered set, Watson's Crisp is charm personified. He knows we want to be entertained, knows we will hang on his every word and is even smug enough to pause momentarily from time to time until the significance of a comment sinks in and we give him the response he expects. It's his standard deal... he knows we're eager to hear his views and he knows he needs us as an audience. As he gently lectures us on everything from the compelling absurdity of the theatrical grande dames of his youth, television's insatiable appetite for schlock, the superiority of America and more particularly New York over England, and a thousand other subjects, Watson's Crisp just occasionally lets the mask slip, especially when his dissertations on love lead him out on a limb of defensive rhetoric, belying the yearning within. Did Quentin Crisp always turn his back on love, in favour of mutually convenient dalliances, as he would have us believe? Not this Crisp, and it is these so very human moments, conveyed in a subtle pause, a momentary clouding of expression and eyes and an unspoken introspection which endear him to us. This is a gentler, more affable Crisp than we are used to seeing, with less of the archness and drollery, and barely a hint of the venom and self-loathing which make the surviving documentary footage and the classic John Hurt performance in The Naked Civil Servant so compelling. Somewhat lacking in the practised archness that personified the real Crisp's writings and performances, Watson's Crisp is happy enough, almost pleased, to be liked. He's an unabashed old queen with some of the cynical edges of middle age blunted by extreme age and fatalism. Resident Alien is a warm, gracious and endearing portrayal of one of the most complex, forthright and self-contained gay men of last century, beautifully presented and a delight to experience. Jay Bennie - 14th February 2008    
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