The curse of the dandy: Quentin Crisp, Sebastian Horsley… Julie Burchill?

Julie Burchill is the first real-life subject that author Tim Fountain has returned to with a follow-up play, Julie Burchill: Absolute Cult, which follows his 2002 hit Julie Burchill Is Away. She’s proved more enduring than Fountain’s other subjects, Quentin Crisp and Sebastian Horsley, but she has much else in common with them. Fountain, Absolute Cult director Mike Bradwell and actor Lizzie Roper discuss the curse and qualities of a dandy.

Tim Fountain, Lizzie Roper and Mike Bradwell

Tim Fountain, Lizzie Roper and Mike Bradwell

Tim Fountain: Someone asked me why I’ve written about Julie Burchill again, and I said because she’s the only one of my real-life subjects who I haven’t killed. Quentin Crisp died on his way to see [Resident Alien, 1999], Sebastian Horsley died on opening night [Dandy in the Underworld, 2010]. Julie just goes on, you can’t kill her.


Lizzie Roper: The actors never die, just the subjects, so I’m safe. And if Julie dies this time, it’ll be great publicity for the show!


Tim: Don’t forget, once you’re dead, you’re made for life! Who said that? It might have been me, or maybe Horsley. That’s what dandies do; they’re jackdaws, they steal. They don’t invent all of the things they’re famous for saying. Horsley nicked quotes like Quentin nicked quotes like Oscar Wilde nicked quotes. Some of them are mutated Aristotle. They domesticate the great philosophers of the world, as Quentin used to say.

A dandy is somebody whose veneer becomes their essence. So in other words, they just maintain this studied posture. Julie Burchill is a female dandy. Dorothy Parker was another one.

I admire her hugely. I suppose I even like her, but in the same way I liked Quentin Crisp. They’re not like other people. You have a sort of friendship with them, but it doesn’t have the intimacy of conventional friendship.


Mike: It’s difficult to get beyond the act in a way, isn’t it?


Tim: Yes. Dandies have crystallised into something that you can’t get past. With Quentin, I remember spending two-and-a-half hours with him once, and it was the most fascinating two-and-a-half hours of my life. And then, as we entered into the third hour of the conversation, I started to get bored and I realised why: he was repeating himself. I went from thinking “genius” to “I’m going to cut and run because, if I leave now, this can remain genius”. I could have seen him again the next day, and I decided I didn’t want to.

I hadn’t seen Julie in ten years, then I went out for lunch with her a few weeks ago. We had a fantastic afternoon, she’s hilarious company. She veers from brilliantly funny to angry, terrifying, belligerent, childish, irascible. All of those things you want in a character, however much you might agree or not agree with her. She’s an amalgam of inconsistencies.


Julie Burchill: Absolute Cult is at Gilded Balloon.

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