Class & greed in Simon Blow’s The Past Is a Tattooed Sailor at Old Red Lion

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Simon Blow’s fiercely witty and bittersweet debut drama, The Past Is a Tattooed Sailor, opens at London’s Old Red Lion Theatre this week.

Simon is the grandson of aristocratic architect Detmar Blow, and scion of a family never far from the newspaper columns. The Past Is a Tattooed Sailor is unique excursion into a lost world of sparkling aphorism and gloriously eccentric characters, of class struggles, thwarted love, and a family’s self destruction.

Past and present are one in the sleeping manor house where Uncle Napier lives in an eternal doze. Upper class boy Joshua has sought out his great-uncle, long taken to his bed and drifting in memories of his glowing adolescence.

Joshua is having his own roaring twenties with new builder boyfriend Damien, but the burden of class weighs heavy over the young man, and ghosts from the past cling to him like Uncle Napier’s overwhelming scent.

Uncle Napier draws both boys into his delusions that his own youth has not faded, and that a muscular sailor will give this Sleeping Beauty the reviving kiss.

Thus Uncle Napier drifts in reverie. Until the two boys and Uncle Napier are sharply awakened by visits from Joshua’s rich Cousin Patrick. But what sinister thoughts lie behind Patrick’s tight-lipped comments? What exactly is he seeking?

This fictionalised drama, directed by Jeffrey Mayhew, draws heavily on Simon Blow’s relationship with his great-uncle Stephen Tennant, “Brightest” of the Bright Young Things and renowned socialite.

Simon says: “’Why did I write this play? ‘You promise not to forget me when I’m gone,’ were the last words of my great-uncle Stephen Tennant – aka Uncle Napier in my play, to me. So I haven’t.

“I have always been intrigued by how rich upper class families behave. Cruelty would be too kind a word as I experienced from the inside. Class and the greed for money are driving forces in society. My play dovetails them.”

The Past Is A Tattooed Sailor runs at the Old Red Lion from tomorrow until August 28.

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