The Past is a Tattooed Sailor (Old Red Lion, London)
By Simon Blow
‘People are more human once they’re not alive’
The Past is Tattooed Sailor is Simon Blow’s autobiographical debut play. It tells of Joshua (JoJo Macari), a young man who, after the death of his parents and the loss of his inheritance, is searching for his place in society and in life.
Joshua, in looking for this place, finds his Uncle Napier (Bernard O’Sulivan). The relationship explored here is written with affection and love. This is touching to watch and share in.
Uncle Napier’s house seems to represent Joshua’s lost heritage that is as addictive as any drug. Ghostly memories of Napier’s past drift in and out of scenes both fascinating and disturbing Joshua. Having both past and present interacting on one stage is an interesting and exciting device, the most interesting of which is the attraction found and explored between Joshua and his uncle’s younger self (Nick Finegan). But the moment is fleeting and quickly disappears into the play’s repetitive structure that creates the illusion of time moving somewhat slowly.
There is a bohemian and wild undercurrent at play both in Joshua’s current life in his fiery relationship with working class Damien (Denholm Spurr) and mirrored in Uncle Napier’s memories of his younger self, but it is never fully explored. We hear stories of French sailors and famous artists but never experience the full potential of these tales.
There are some beautifully acted moments from all actors. Most notably JoJo Macari brings Joshua’s inner struggle with his lost past to life in an emotional outburst towards the end of the second half.
You can feel as you watch this play that Blow has handled this labour of love with a gentleness and care that anyone would afford their own story. This makes for a delicate and sensitively written play that, at times, is crying out to be pushed to its extreme.
On at the Old Red Lion (London) until 27th Aug 2016
© Janina Smith 2016