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Saturday 08 April 2017

Review: Resident Alien

Posted in: Performance
By Jay Bennie - 22nd March 2017

Roy Ward has, after four years, revived his excellent perfomance as Quentin Crisp in the beautifully written Resident Alien. Once again he triumphs.


Penned by Tim Fountain, Resident Alien is a beautifully written one-man show of great charm, wit and intimacy. It is in essence as though the audience has arrived for a chat at the shabby New York apartment aesthete Crisp inhabited for the last couple of decades of his life, living off the notoriety and almost iconic homo status he achieved after his delightfully frank autobiography The Naked Civil Servant was made into a highly successful movie.

Physically ageing, frail and seemingly almost as desiccated as the dusty cluttered and frankly unhygenic one room apartment he inhabits, Crisp chats away, flitting like a lavender-perfumed butterfly from subject to subject, historic to modern, opining on subjects from the global to the intimate. Princess Diana's marriage, Oprah Winfrey, Thatcherism, gay relationships, celebrity, penises by the pound, the publishing industry, housekeeping, blowjobs, silent movies, love and more are commented on with wit, insight, irony and waspishness. Mostly it's good-humoured in an endearingly sly way but his savaging of aesthete from an earlier age Oscar Wilde's breakdown after being jailed is really quite nasty.

This is a delicious and well-crafted script so what does Ward bring to the piece? In essence, charisma. As he inhabits the body and soul of Crisp he seemingly effortlessly embodies the man. It's the little things that count. A flicker of an eye, the twitch of an eyebrow, the length of a pause, the arc of a hand movement, the depth of a breath, the intensity of a stare, the slyness of a smirk, all are brought to bear wonderfully. Even when, as the audience enters, he's sitting almost motionless in the gloom watching Oprah on a dilapidated old TV, frequently turning away to stare blankly into the middle distance, alone with his thoughts, he is impossible to ignore.

The set is perfect, as is the venue, the music - mostly faded glossily-arranged foxtrots from the 1920s and thirties - expertly chosen and the direction spot on.

But it's Ward's show and his evocation of Crisp is a star turn. He brings the 'stately old homo' of England alive in a compelling and detailed performance. His Crisp is very good company, a man fully aware of his own vulnerable situation who has learned, or had to learn, to live on his wits, to be comfortable with his own company and for whom a measure of success and a modicum of security has come rather too late in life to be relied on.

Who would have thought the acerbic, world-weary ramblings of a tired old queen could be so uplifting.

It's a pity this show couldn't have been mounted during the Auckland Pride Festival because for glbti people a Pride festival, any Pride festival is where Resident Alien naturally belongs.

- Jay Bennie

Resident Alien

Written by Tim Fountain
Performed by Roy Ward
Basement Theatre Studio, Auckland
March 21-25, March 28 - April 1

Jay Bennie - 22nd March 2017

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