What do Quentin Crisp and Patrick Hamilton have in common?

Mark Farrelly has written and is performing two back-to-back solo shows at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, about two very different 20th-century Englishmen: novelist, playwright and Soho alcoholic Patrick Hamilton, whose plays included Rope and Gaslight, and eccentric and The Naked Civil Servant author Quentin Crisp. Both are directed by Linda Marlowe. Mark explains the connection…


Silence-PosterPJ400There is an accidental kinship between my two pieces, The Silence of Snow and Naked Hope: the first is about a man who never worked himself out and the second is about a man who takes over from his own low point, makes it, gets to New York, stands onstage and says I am what I am and, in a sense, his is a happy ending.


Patrick Hamilton was somebody who never quite found out who he was and, as a consequence, could never be happy. When I first read his biography, I kept thinking, how does this work out? I wouldn’t let myself skip to the end; then when I got there, I discovered, no, it never did work out. Apart from the fact that I love the words in Hamilton’s fiction, which are heavily sprinkled throughout the play, that was a big part of the attraction to his story for me.


What you see in The Silence of Snow is him relentlessly fucking his life up, getting everything wrong, like a lot of us do. You watch the car crash of his life – and there is an actual car crash in the play as well – and you watch him trying to come to terms with that. I thought about giving it an upbeat ending but, when other people read it, they said, no, you have to end it the way his life really ended.


Quentin is someone who progressed several steps beyond that. He said, I absolutely will understand and accept myself. Hence the line in the play, ‘You can’t love the world until you’ve at least settled for yourself’. Naked Hope is about being who you are, whoever you are. It’s not about being gay. I’m not gay. Just like the Patrick Hamilton piece isn’t about being an alcoholic. I’m not an alcoholic either.


When researching Naked Hope, I spoke to several actors in America who’ve played Quentin Crisp in the past and I was strongly encouraged by them. They said they loved playing him because you get a warmth from the audience, who relate to him very quickly. Somebody who starts a performance piece by saying, ‘I’m not a dropout, I was never in’, is so self-deprecating that you immediately think, I can do business with this guy. Even with this bizarre hair, he’s got no pretension.


Playing Quentin puts me in a good mood. There’d be something seriously wrong with you if you couldn’t enjoy being Quentin Crisp. He’s just a medley of great words and ideas and thoughts. He’s fabulous.


It was after I did a tryout of The Silence of Snow, that I thought, okay, it’s time, Quentin, let’s have a go. Maybe that just reflects my own journey, that I was more Patrick at one point in my life – I was bit of a dark, lost, depressed person, and now happily I’m coming more onto the Quentin spectrum these days.


In Edinburgh, I’m doing the two shows almost back to back in two different places. The only stipulation I had with the scheduling was that I do Patrick first and then Quentin second. I think to exit that glow of positivity and then have to go and be a drunk would be too hard.


The Silence of Snow is at Laughing Horse @ Espionage (Free Festival), 1 to 24 August at 12.00 (runs 1 hour). Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope is at Gilded Balloon, 30 July to 25 August at 15:00 (runs 1 hour 10 minutes).

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