Theatre; The queen is dead! Long live Quentin Crisp!

RESIDENT ALIEN BUSH THEATRE LONDON

QUENTIN CRISP may have died on Sunday, but you only need to see Resident Alien at the Bush theatre to realise that the force of his personality makes mortality no more than an insignificant detail. It is as if every witticism that dropped from his lips encapsulated a fragment of his soul - put enough of them together, and once more you see the whole man preening himself before you. Sitting among the carefully sculpted cobwebs and piles of books, Bette Bourne turns performance into life as lovingly as Crisp always turned life into performance. The whole experience feels less like a trip to the theatre than a warmly extended invitation to tea.

Tim Fountain's script boasts the linguistic wealth of a life of one-liners, and the audience is quickly drawn in by Crispian pronouncements on: politics - "A medium in which a person can suspend his monstrous ego"; relationships - "Is there life after marriage?"; and suppressed anger - "Mass murderers are simply people who've had enough."

Despite the acidic veneer, it is obvious that Crisp's wit stemmed from love of the absurd rather than from bitterness, and Bourne emphasises this with the warmth of his delivery, eyes glittering as he looks round and enjoys the audience's laughter. His benevolent presence turns the tables on the world - so that Crisp is no longer the absurd element, and it is everyone else who is floundering in a confusion of false colours and artificially crafted identities. Laughter here becomes something revelatory, unmasking facades with a worldly wise Crispian flourish.

Bourne shines throughout, but on the evening I went, the most extraordinary moments came when disruptions to the performance showed how deeply he had immersed himself in Crisp's character.

A man sitting in the audience seemed to be drunk or drugged, and started making comments and creating a disturbance. In life, Crisp famously commented that "Manners are a way of getting exactly what you want without appearing to be an absolute swine", and an obituary this week told how he had once outmanoeuvred hooligans who were trying to beat him up with the observation: "I seem to have offended you gentlemen in some way." With similar courtesy, Bourne came out of script to calm the man down, defusing the situation with respect and understanding.

Crisp's longing for death has been written up in papers everywhere, and Bourne manages to convey the physical restrictions that must have made the grave such a relief. It is a shock every time he moves, for his words have so much life and alacrity in them that his body seems like their aged and unwelcome relative. You start to understand how his body, like his sayings, was only of use to him as long as it expressed his personality. Once that had stopped, it was better that only the words were left.

Rachel Halliburton

To 11 Dec, 0181-743 3388

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