Dandy In The Underworld

As readers of this blog may well know, I knew Sebastian Horsley, the subject of this one-man show, and so it was with slight trepidation that I ventured down to the Soho Theatre where Tim Fountain’s play was being produced.

With a combination of tragic irony and great timing, Sebastian died the night after the first night, and so the play now functions less as a celebration of his life and work and more as a memorial; a daunting task for anyone to pull off, not least Sebastian’s stand-in here, Milo Twomey.

For those unfamiliar with Sebastian’s chaotic and distinctly unconventional life and way of living, Fountain’s play is a good basic primer. Twomey comes on, louche in silk dressing gown, to boast about his various antics, including the near-seduction of his Austrian publicist Henrietta, ‘as flat-chested as a pageboy…and something about her that’s eminently fuckable’. As he prepares himself for a lunch date with Henrietta, Sebastian boasts of his various misdeeds and escapades, dresses in his elaborate finery and regales his audience with a potted account of his unusual family history, including his alcoholic parents, his bisexual affairs and, quite literally, suffering for his art.

As the 80 minutes or so wear on, the jolly one-liners and witty wordplay grow darker, as Fountain draws on Sebastian’s memoir to hint at his darker sides, such as his OCD, heroin habit and occasional bouts of temper, which, I should add, I never saw the slightest hint of in all the time I knew him. (But then why on earth would I have done?) Finally, as he skips off to an orgy, we see Whoresley in all his rapacious, unmatchable and seedy glamour, both distasteful yet strangely exhilarating.

It’s hard to review this from an objective standpoint, both so close to Sebastian’s death and also given the way that it draws so closely – indeed, verbatim at many points – on the memoir itself. Twomey captures about half of Sebastian’s persona – the wit, the extravagant dandyism, the licentiousness and the hints of the little boy lost are all there. What isn’t present in either the play or his performance is the other side of Sebastian Horsley, the kindness, consideration for others, the self-awareness or the humanity that lurked beneath the suits.

But then this isn’t supposed to be a definitive life study, or a play for his friends and family- it’s an attempt, and a fairly noble and successful one at that – to offer an insight for the uninitiated into why such a curious and apparently distancing figure as Sebastian could inspire such affection, loyalty and interest, even (or especially) after his death.

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2 Responses to “Dandy In The Underworld”

  1. James Dowling Says:

    I saw the show after reading about Sebastian’s death. On the one hand I was glad to catch the performance, on the other I am saddened that the person who inspired it is no more. But then everything about Horsley was a contradiction.

  2. do ya walk like Marc Bolan..??

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