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Channelling Crisp

Fri 16 Aug 2013 In: Performance View at NDHA

Auckland theatre stalwart Roy Ward is having fun transforming himself into the Quentin Crisp, bringing the divisive gay eccentric (and his filthy apartment) to stage in his nonagenarian glory. As much as it’s plenty of fun, Ward says Crisp is also a part of our history that he wants people to have a sense of. Ward found the script for Resident Alien about ten years ago and fell in love with it. Written by Tim Fountain, it’s based on Crisp’s own life and writings, and is set in New York – featuring Crisp at the ripe age of 90. “It’s about his philosophy and guides on self-fulfilment and being your own person,” Ward says. “There’s a kind of gentle philosophy that runs through it that’s very surprising. But it’s very funny. It’s full of his kind of wit and humour.” Crisp came of age in London in the 1920s, an era when being openly gay was especially dangerous. He worked as a rent boy, then spent three decades as a life model before penning his autobiography The Naked Civil Servant, which led to a hugely popular television adaptation and thrust Crisp into the international spotlight. At an age when many people move to nursing homes, he moved to New York and became the ‘Resident Alien’ of the play’s title, up until he died in 1999. One of the key factors which drew Roy Ward to the play was that Crisp made a life for himself against the odds, from not particularly promising raw material. “He grew up, came out and was a rent boy on the streets of London in the 20s and 30s. It was a very hostile environment obviously and he chose to be himself at a time when it was very difficult to do that.” Ward thought the timing was right to perform Resident Alien in Auckland, one reason being he suspects a lot of people now don’t even know who Crisp was. He hopes to draw a mixed audience to The Basement Studio for the August 20-14 run, and would love young people to come along to see what they make of Crisp. “He’s quite divisive,” Ward explains. “In his time he was despised by the gay community as much as loved by them. He said a lot of things which are out of kilter with what we might think now, but he’s such an individual. And such a product of his time. I think he’s inspiring.” Crisp did terrible things, Ward points out, like saying “AIDS was a fad”, but then we found out after he died he had been secretly donating money to HIV causes. As Ward puts it: “He’s a big bundle of contradiction.” Roy Ward Roy Ward is the former Associate Director of Auckland Theatre Company, and has many productions to his name. His most recent was the acclaimed Black Faggot, by Victor Rodger, which played at The Basement earlier this year and won four Auckland Fringe Awards including Best Theatre Production –and had a highly-impressed Editor Jay Bennie raving. Resident Alien is the first solo show of Ward’s 30-year acting career, meaning he will not have other actors on stage to play off. However that fits, as the piece is of course, “all about Quentin”. The biggest challenge he has getting into character is that Crisp was 90 at the time the play is set. The raconteur’s distinctive image helps, as when Ward puts on the neckerchief and hat “Quentin starts to emerge”. The particular and elegant Crisp language also helps the actor channel him, although deciding how far to go with the voice has been a task. “At the age of 90 he was really quite decrepit and croaky … he was still touring and doing shows and as public as he could be, but his voice was a bit rough. Mine is a bit croaky as I have had a really bad flu, which seems to be helping – I’ve aged horribly!” Ward jokes. The timing of the marriage equality law coming into effect the day before the show opens is perfect in Ward’s mind. “I’m really intrigued to think what Quentin Crisp would have made of gay marriage. I think he would have been quite bewildered and possibly quite disinterested and even quite negative about it. He actually talks a lot about marriage in the play … and he’s quite scathing.” Ward believes Crisp’s ‘defensive pose against the world’ came because he was a product of his time. However he says such feelings about marriage resonate with others - he included. “It wasn’t at the top of my list,” he explains. “As much as I support it, it’s about the freedom to choose. It’s not important to me to have the state recognise my relationship, because I’ve gone from the time when it was completely illegal. And of course to actually survive and live a decent life you actually have to say ‘this doesn’t matter, I don’t care what the state thinks.’ For us to be turning around now and wanting full equality, it makes sense, but I don’t think it resonates with the older generation quite the same way it seems to be important for younger people.” All the more reason for the younger generation to head along to Resident Alien and get a taste of a gay man from a different time? Ward agrees, saying he just wants people to have a sense of our history. “The danger too when we to become more integrated, as it were, or more mainstream, is that we lose sight of our history, all the individuals who really went out on a limb to create the world that we had. Quentin Crisp wasn’t a big campaigner for gay rights, but living the life he did, he was a very visual representation of something.” RESIDENT ALIEN plays August 20th – 24th, 6:30pm Basement Theatre Studio, Lower Greys Avenue, CBD Ticket prices: $25, $22 Bookings: iTicket – or 09 361 1000 Jacqui Stanford - 16th August 2013    

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Friday, 16th August 2013 - 11:50am

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