Friday, 26 August 2016

'The Past Is a Tattooed Sailor' Old Red Lion Theatre ***

The undeniably extravagant and flamboyant Stephen Tennant which supposedly was the catalyst for characters, Cedric in ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ and Sebastian Flyte in ‘Brideshead Revisited’ and the great uncle to orphan, Simon Blow due to the fact that he lost both parents gives us a personal story about someone who he respected. The Old Red Lion Theatre’s production of, Simon Blow’s current play, ‘The Past Is a Tattooed Sailor’ does itself justice presenting a biographical play but with different character names etc., what is more, the portrayals were greatly acted.

‘The Past Is a Tattooed Sailor’ is set in the mansion of Uncle Napier where we are introduced to orphaned Joshua who is a penniless youngster has chosen to visit his great-uncle Napier who is rather affluent with money and resides in a large mansion. Luckily enough for Joshua, Uncle Napier develops a soft spot for his great-nephew and asks Joshua to become his carer and new heir to his estate and as such; he has to be by his great-uncle’s bed side despite the fact that he already has a servant by the name of Matthew (Paul Foulds). Uncle Napier’s cousin, Patrick (John Rayment) is competing for the money and because of the progression of Uncle Napier’s relationship with Joshua, he is alarmed that he may not be successful in obtaining the money and estate that he most desires. Over the course of the performance, we see that Joshua and his builder boyfriend, Damien are having problems with their fledgling relationship as Joshua is constantly visiting his uncle as well as the fact that Joshua thinks that Damien could be perceived as a bit of a ruffian if he eventually meets Uncle Napier. On a slightly different note, Uncle Napier has regular visions of his younger self where he had sex with French escorts and how the presence of his mother, Helena (Elizabeth George) still has in his life because the both of them are living in the mansion as ghostly figures.  As the relationship between himself and Joshua is strengthening by the day, yet when Joshua introduced his boyfriend, Damien to his great-uncle, Uncle Damien is less than thrilled that Joshua has brought him into his home. Throughout the performance you can see that Uncle Napier just sits around listening to show tunes, nonetheless, he has been finishing an unfinished novel which is in the process of being published. Nevertheless, Uncle Napier quite frankly is exceedingly perverted and even has the fearlessness to make a move of Joshua’s boyfriend, on the other hand, Damien does agree to having sexual intercourse with Uncle Napier but when they have done the deed, Uncle Napier lays back in his bed and passes away with Young Napier and his mother, Helena by his bed side so he isn’t on his own at his last breath. At the finale, Joshua is informed that Uncle Napier did not amend his last will and testament in time so the selfish cousin, Patrick is the heir to the whole estate leaving Joshua with nothing and basically back to square one but with Damien holding his hand all the way. Blow’s narrative is reasonable as we can see how his own personal story into a theatrical experience of he (Joshua in the play) had formed a strong bond with his great-uncle, but I would have liked to have seen some more scenes with Joshua and Damien as we see too much of Uncle Napier lying on his bed like a Greek God, then again, not a bad plot line just needs more refinement. 

One found the performances by the company of, ‘The Past Is a Tattooed Sailor’ to be charmingly portrayed and I can see that there has been a sturdy camaraderie with the company as I had a decent conversation with them after the performance.  Bernard O’Sullivan is pleasant as the flamboyant, Uncle Napier; predominantly where he seems to have a sense of safety with his mother’s ghostly figure being in the mansion, also, the moments with Joshua could suggest that he did want to a father but his sexuality affected that from happening. Jojo Macari is great as Uncle Napier’s great-nephew, Joshua; especially how we see that there is pain in the core of himself due to the fact he hasn’t got any living parents, however, when he is with Damien there are some lovely moments with the two as two levels of class in a relationship can be rather delightful. Denholm Spurr is attractive as Joshua’s boyfriend, Damien; for example how you can see that he is not happy with the fact that his partner is always with his great-uncle and that he should be spending more time with him and this is shown with the tension that is conveyed when he is acquainted with him. Nick Finegan is good as the Young Napier; specifically in the flashback when he is in France and we can see how the older form of Napier has become the way he is as it appears that he has never had a long running relationship and uses escorts as the means to smooth over this missing aspects of his life. 

Jeffrey Mayhew’s direction is agreeable here as he has presented a fair effort of showing us how the life of Simon Blow and his great-uncle’s relationship in a dramatic piece of artistry, on the contrary, I would have liked it is he could make us a little bit more enthralled in some parts, but that was rather minimal and the characterisations were fully clad. Rosie Mayhew’s design is pretty excellent as I was definitely transported to this part of Joshua and Uncle Napier’s life, plus Sam Waddington’s lighting design and Jack Lord’s sound design was terrific as it helped justify the dark and vibrant environment of the whole show and for two graduates who graduated this year, they were so on point with their work. Overall, the experience of, ‘The Past Is a Tattooed Sailor’’ to be a gracious one and one that must have been rather interesting for Simon Blow to have written and acted on a stage that I very much love.

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