English alien exposé

Resident Alien (Cameron Lukey)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

May 17 – 20

‘It takes a man to suffer ignorance a smile, 

Be yourself no matter what they say.’ ….

So go the words of Sting’s 1987 song ‘An Englishman in New York’. And the Englishman in question was 1970s gay icon, English writer, raconteur and actor Quentin Crisp. At the time, Crisp was a resident alien in America, which is where audiences join him (Paul Capsis) for the show of that name, “Resident Alien”, which is appearing at the Brisbane Powerhouse as part of the 2018 Melt Festival of Queer Arts and Culture

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The one-man show’s setting is Crisp’s dust-filled, filthy New York boarding house room, where the opinionated writer lived the last years of his life and where he surrounds himself with books he never reads, being who he is rather than what society wants him to be.  his is his dressing room for the stage of the world outside and so we become privy to his routines as, knowing he is being watched, he potters about his hermitage watching Oprah on a portable television and preparing himself for a luncheon date with Mr Brown and Mr Black. The 70-minute monologue that follows moves naturally from reflection on the superficial nature of modern fame to personal anecdotes and explanation of the logic behind his shocking surroundings. There is a real conversational feel to the way his musings are shared, with an intimacy enhanced by the Visy Theatre’s cosy space.

Appropriately given its subject matter, the script contains sharp and biting wit of the Oscar Wilde sort as Crisp offers a range of outspoken philosophies about societal institutions like education and marriage and in reflection of the differences between life in the US and UK. And much comedy comes from his not-entirely-eccentric, pithy observations and his unwavering belief in their wisdom. Relationships, politics … nothing is off limits from speaking his truth, not even Princess Diana. (“All she had to do was wave at the crowds.’’)

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Multi award winning actor Paul Capsis more than just looks the part, but embodies it in every way. He captures Crisp’s theatrical, androgynous style, especially when dressed in suit, scarf and tilted hat atop quaffed locks (his hair, in particular, is perfection), but he also captures that voice; his every inflection is precise in its inhabit of the elderly effeminate icon’s being in complement to his every nuanced gesture, movement and rubber-faced reaction. So mesmerising is his performance to observe, that the audience watches in absorbed and engaged silence even when he is just frying eggs on his portable stovetop. Indeed, the use of silence features effectively throughout the piece and helps to present a Crisp at odds with his public persona as he takes small steps around the room, using everything around him for balance.

“Resident Alien” represents theatre at its very best. Its staging and production values are exquisite and its script is authentically filled with actual Crisp quotes. Capsis’ portrayal of Crisp is absolutely compelling, in fact, it is one of the best performances you will see this year, well deserving of its full standing ovation on opening night. Though on the surface it shares a glimpse into Quentin Crisp’s fascinating life, it is so well crafted as to also expose the essential vulnerability beneath the flamboyant veneer of the fiercely individual celebrity, giving audience members much to consider in reflection about whether we should pity Crisp for his living conditions or praise him for the honesty with which he viewed the world.

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