Theatre review: Resident Alien

By Janet McAllister

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Roy Ward purses lips and bats mascara'd eyelashes beautifully as Quentin Crisp.
Roy Ward purses lips and bats mascara'd eyelashes beautifully as Quentin Crisp.

The poetic cynic Quentin Crisp was wonderfully quotable - a latter-day Oscar Wilde, made of more stoic, less squashable stuff.

This one-queen show is a loosely plotted grab-bag of the flaneur's amusing "mail order guru" aphorisms: "Sex smudges your make-up," he says, and "Books are for writing, not for reading."

Roy Ward, as the Englishman in New York in 1999, purses lips, flutters hands, bats mascara'd eyelashes and keeps his knees together beautifully. Crisp emerges from the chrysalis of a moth-eaten dressing gown to become a fabulous bedecked and bedazzled creature. (The lavender shirt is just-so, even if the signature hat might not be quite floppy enough.)

Ward's portrayal was sympathetic if a little hesitant on opening night. This may change as he becomes more familiar with the script during the short season; then again, the hesitancy may be the carefulness of a 90-year-old, who is not as fast or robust as he once was: "I daren't go out alone on slippery or uneven surfaces ... I am no longer renewable."

With lines like these, playwright Tim Fountain emphasises the pathos of an elderly man alone in a small, cold bedsit surrounded by books, dirty plates and a dust-snow globe. Crisp says he's not lonely - Fountain leaves us with a question mark.

More compelling are Crisp's originality and his hobby of mild scandalising and challenging: "Other people are a mistake," he declares, while education is an "expensive time-waster", an attempt "to stop the world going mad from an overdose of leisure". Supposedly contradictory, his profound/shallow philosophy on the "profession of being", refined over his long lifetime, is presented as coherent: "Style and sincerity are the same thing." Jessica Verryt's realist set is nicely judged in the intimate space of the Basement's studio and Pete Davison's lighting design subtly contrasts window light with lightbulb light. At nearly two hours (including interval), it's long for a one-character, one-register play, but it's easy to drift along happily on Crisp's riffs. Good value at $25.

What: Resident Alien

Where: The Basement, until Saturday

- NZ Herald

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