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A CurtainUp London London Review
Dandy in the Underworld

Heroin's like the whore who gave you the best fuck you ever had. She may have stolen your credit card and given you clap but a part of you always feels like going back for more. — Sebastian Horsley
Dandy in the Underworld
Milo Twomey as Sebastian Horsley
(Photo: Geraint Lewis)
At the Soho Theatre, Tim Fountain has dramatised Sebastian Horsley's 2007 biography with actor Milo Twomey playing the outrageous artist Mr Horsley. His witty epigrams are as foul, narcissistic and depraved as he would like us to believe he is but somehow that doesn't seem to be the whole picture.

Many of the jokes— and they are very good jokes, but not for the prudish— were in a review in The Times of his autobiography, dubbed unauthorised, which I read by way of preparation for the show. To give you an idea of the scatological flavour, Sebastian tells us that after a critical review from an art critic of one of his shows of paintings, he bought a beautiful box from Tiffany's and sent it to her with one of his own turds inside. He also described the outspokenly caustic writer Will Self's face, as unforgettably looking like a bag of genitals.

The problems seem to start with his family. Sebastian tells us that both his parents were alcoholics. His father Nicholas, described by the press as a "champagne socialist," was the Chairman of a company called Northern Foods, which brought us Mr Whippy ice cream. That company was worth £2billion pounds so Sebastian was not short of a few bob. Sebastian's mother was a manic depressive and he claims that she attempted an overdose while she was pregnant with him. A quip tells of her driving off to the off licence on a motorised lawn mower after her car keys had been confiscated. Another time when she wanted a child to take with her on holiday and was asked which one of the three, she said "One that goes with red velvet." It was Sebastian of course.

The play is a monologue set in Sebastian Horsley's Soho Meard Street flat with only rings at the door bell or phone calls intervening. The flat is decorated with a wall of skulls and lots of red velvet. The images of death inspire him to tell us about his staged crucifixion in the Philippines in 2000. He says, "Jesus was crucified to save mankind, I was crucified save my career. Both of us failed." You Tube has the fascinating film footage as the footrest on the cross collapses and Horsley keels over and is caught by a group of people. He is visibly shaken. He was also interested in the images of the death of his namesake Saint Sebastian.

Horsley wheels in his hanging rack of suits in covers (a friend described his flat as looking like a drycleaners) and selects a red velvet long frock coated suit and an enormously high red velvet topper. He paints his nails bright pink and tells us the dandy style is to dress in such a way that would attract attention at a Liberace concert. Besides the mock Regency fashions, Horsley describes his sexual relations with prostitutes and his forays into smack, cocaine and heroin. The tile Dandy in the Underworld comes from one of Marc Bolam's hits.

In the play Sebastian waits to take a girl, who he plans to seduce, out to lunch at Claridges but receives a bunch of sunflowers with a note saying that she won't be there. Towards the end there are some longer pauses, some moments where the actor appears not to know where to go next and looks at us in penetrating sadness. There is talk of oblivion and loneliness. The actor Milo Twomey was so excellent; a misreading of the play text had me convinced we were watching Sebastian Horsley himself.

The play had me aching for some depth. I felt a bit bored at the excesses, the drugs, the sex, the prostitutes. I had the feeling that depravity is where you go when there is nothing meaningful in your life. Now I am not saying that those of us who do not lead depraved lives necessarily have anything meaningful to live for, only that my advice to Sebastian Horsley would be to get out and do something for others. OK you've had a deprived and abusive childhood, a lot of money and not much else, but you have a brilliant intellect and a talent to amuse.

This advice of course comes too late. Sebastian had been reportedly worrying about the pressures of the after show party after the opening of the play on Tuesday night. He was thought to have been off heroin for several months. At the party he was on form, saying that he'd rather be crucified again than sit through the play another time! He was found dead at 11am on Thursday morning. He had spoken to his girlfriend Rachel on the Wednesday and told her he was going to get some sleep. It is thought that he scored heroin on the way back from the party and died of an overdose. His death has brought many tributes from those who saw a kind friend under the staged persona.

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Dandy in the Underworld
Written by Tim Fountain
From the autobiography by Sebastian Horsley
Directed by Tim Fountain

Starring: Milo Twomey
Design: Paul Wills
Lighting: Philip Gladwell
Sound: Fergus O'Hare
Running time: One hour 15 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 0870 429 6883
Booking until 10th July 2010
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 15th June 2010 performance at the Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London W1D 3NE (Tube:Piccadilly Circus)

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