Resident Alien

The Auckland Performing Arts Centre: TAPAC, Auckland

13/02/2008 - 23/02/2008

Production Details

Why this play?  

In July 2006 John Watson was browsing through the Auckland Public Library when he came across "Resident Alien", a script by Tim Fountain. The play features Quentin Crisp, as a 91 year old living in New York. The title refers to Quentin’s immigration status in America. Quentin had his first brush with fame in the mid 70’s with the biographical film "The Naked Civil Servant". Quentin has been something of a hero to John since that time. "I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would get to play Quentin Crisp. His philosophy of individual liberty is both uplifting and entertaining."

Who is Quentin Crisp?

Quentin Crisp, born in 1908 realised as a young man that there was nothing he could do to hide his naturally effeminate personality and so he chose to accentuate his style, rather than try and hide it.  With hennaed hair, gravity-defying makeup and inch-long pained fingernails, the young Quentin Crisp cut a brave and audacious figure in 19930s London.  However with a heightened wit, and a decided self possession, he managed to traverse the streets of a hostile London, enduring outward displays of hatred and contempt, and skirting physical danger, with a politeness and ingenuity.  He reached a pinnacle of recognition when the film inspired by his book The Naked Civil Servant was released when he was 68 yrs of age.  By that time he was the self proclaimed "Stately Old Homo of England".

The success of The Naked Civil Servant launched Crisp into a new direction in his life, that of performer and lecturer.  He devised a one-man show and began touring the UK with it.  The first half of the show was an entertaining monologue loosely based on his memoirs, the second half was a question & answer session with Crisp picking the audience’s written questions at random and answering them in an amusing manner.  In 1978 Crisp sold out the Duke of York’s Theatre in London, took the show to New York and eventually moved there.  By then he was 73 years of age.  Once in American Crisp continued to be enormously popular spending much of his time as a requested guest of notable presence, or a speaker, at a wide variety of events.  He was photographed endlessly, and appeared in a number of movies, often playing himself.  But he also played character roles including Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest (stage version), and Queen Elizabeth I in the film adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando. 

Alongside appearances, Crisp continued to write:  both as a movie critic for the New York Times, and his own books including How to Have a Life-Style, Manners from Heaven, and Resident Alien – the New York Diaries.  His writings and his frequent public speaking engagements, form the script of Tim Fountain’s play Resident Alien.

Quentin Crisp was a man of impeccable manners and a slightly world-weary philosophy.  His gently cynical wit was laced with memorable epigrams and he became something of a guru to a far younger generation who delighted in his individualism.  He man who once called himself "invincibly peculiar" had triumphed over prejudice to become, paradoxically, part of the establishment that had once so cruelly mocked him.

Some quotes of Quentin Crisp’s: 

Never keep up with the Jones.  Drag them down to your level.  Its cheaper  

If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style.

It is explained that all relationships require a little give and take.  This is untrue.  Any partnership demands that we give and give and give and at the last, as we flop into our graves exhausted, we are told that we didn’t give enough.

I confess:  for most of my seventy-five years on this cosmic dustball I have been guilty of bad manners.  I was ostentatious in appearance – enough to stop traffic on some occasions and interrupt conversations on others.  At one time if you had looked down on streets in the city of London from a high window you would only have seen people dressed in black, brown, dark blue or dark grey. Even women did not wear scarlet coats in the street.  If you then spotted a blazing Technicolor rash moving slowly through this austere parade it would either have been a fruit cart – or myself"

On appearing in a Calvin Klein advert :
I knew it was important because this enormous limousine purred up outside the house to collect me.  It was so big inside that the first time it turned a corner I fell off the seat.  We drove to a huge warehouse and I though, "how fabulous!  We’re going to remake The Charge of the Light Brigade!’  But then we were told to stand on a piece of paper about twice the size of this table while a half-naked man writhed between our legs.  I looked at Mr Klein and I said, ‘But what does it all mean?’  And that was what they used in the advertisement…

On his famous non-housework, non dusting and non vacuuming policy:
After the first four years it doesn’t get any worse. 

On Quentin Crisp


"He nimbly answers anything asked of him, with clever responses he probably concocted years before the questioner was born" – Theatre Critic commenting on ‘An Evening with Quentin Crisp’ 

"If, manners maketh man as someone said
Then he’s the hero of the day
It takes’ a man to suffer ignorance and smile
Be yourself no matter what they say 

I’m an alien I’m a legal alien
I’m an Englishman in New York" 

–  Sting. Lyrics of "Englishman in New York 

John Watson:  Actor and Producer

Theatre Corporate, Court, Fortune, Centrepoint Actor 1973-1986

TV/Film Guest roles on such productions as Gloss, Funny business, Shark in the Park, Homeward Bound, Black Stallion as well as the usual suspects:  Shortland St, Hercules and Xena

Set:  John Parker 
Lighting:  Andrew Malmo 
Costume:  Kirsty Cameron 

Style with content

Review by Nik Smythe 21st Feb 2008

We are invited, like so many welcome strangers, into 90 year old Quentin Crisp’s dusty, cluttered private single room in New York.  It is odd to see someone so famously flamboyant living in such squalor, yet Crisp was similarly famous for his frugal lifestyle as he was for his orientation, ostentation and opinions.

In a play written by Tim Fountain and first performed in Britain in 1999, the same year and month of Quentin’s death, director Amanda Rees and actor John Watson opt for a human portrait of one of the most effeminate celebrities of recent history.

Like any actor in the role of Frankie in The Rocky Horror Show having Tim Curry’s seminal turn in the cinematic version to live up to, Watson contends not only with John Hurt’s outstanding portrayal in the 70s tele-movie The Naked Civil Servant, but obviously with the late great Quentin Crisp himself. Not exactly oozing with overwhelming presence, Watson’s Crisp is relaxed, without the slightest sense of desperation to impress or pander to anyone else’s expectation; more of a simple pathological inclination to express himself verbally.

Quentin Crisp was frequently called upon by strangers of all walks of life; artists, academics, rebellious teenagers, whom he welcomed indiscriminately.  On this occasion he is preparing to meet with some students who want his advice on how to be happy. It amuses him to think he’s regarded as some sort of expert on the matter. 

Some of his attitudes and opinions may be surprising, were the key to Quentin’s fame not his individuality: ‘Say what you’ve come to say, no matter what!’.  Whilst seen as a hero by many among the gay community for his unapologetic homosexuality, he appears to share little or no affinity with gay culture.  Nor does he like music, particularly nowadays where it’s inescapable everywhere you go.  "What’s wrong with silence?" he wonders.  He thinks Margaret Thatcher is a star, although he doesn’t see politics as anything beyond entertainment.  And he disapproves of marriage, regarding it as an inevitable compromise of style.

‘Style’ is the catchword of the piece, and evidently of Quentin’s life.  He abhors and shuns any form of collective identity, rather he believes we all need to find our individual style independent of any social expectation: "If there were no praise, and no blame, who would I be then?"  Actually having something to say is equally important:  "One can only judge the style through the content, and can only reach the content through the style."

It’s inevitable Fountain’s script is liberally peppered with Crisp’s famous Wildean wit – ‘Never get into a narrow single bed with a wide single man’ – which serves as strong scaffolding indeed for Watson’s performance.  His way of extending vowels of significant words such as ‘lo-o-ove’ or ‘pe-e-eople’, or cheekily mispronouncing words like ‘fillim’ give the portrait a determinedly cavalier aspect that sits well in the complete picture.

Resident Alien isn’t biographical in the same way as The Naked Civil Servant (Quentin’s description of his work in younger days as a life model), which was made a decade before he moved to New York and Sting wrote that song about him even though he detests music so much.  It’s simply an afternoon with a man who’s done almost everything he’s ever going to; a most gregarious yet biting character, famous for being famous and glad to share himself for the stimulation and wonderment of others.
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Heartfelt tribute intelligent, funny

Review by Shannon Huse 21st Feb 2008

Resident Alien is a strangely conventional play given it’s a tribute to the fedora-hatted, make-up-wearing, bejewelled "naked civil servant" himself – Quentin Crisp. Written by British playwright and author Tim Fountain, Resident Alien is a traditional monologue in two acts, and in this production Crisp’s extraordinary life is evoked with a naturalistic design aesthetic. [More


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