Nick Finegan as young Napier and Jojo Macari as Joshua in The Past is a Tattooed Sailor, Old Red Lion Theatre (c) Pamela Raith Photography
Simon Blow's debut play is autobiographical, telling the tale of his relationship with his great uncle - the socialite Stephen Tennant. Simon becomes Joshua for the purposes of the play (played by Jojo Macari) and he decides to visit his now reclusive 'uncle Napier' who lives in the family pile outside London. Joshua has lost his parents, inheritance and is adrift, he feels hard done by and sees both a family connection and an opportunity in Uncle Napier but there are other relatives circling too.
Napier (Bernard O'Sullivan) reposes in his boudoir on a chaise longue and 'takes to' Joshua which means regaling him with tales of his youth and the literary and artistic set he was part of - Tennant had a four year relationship with Sigfried Sassoon and is said to have inspired Evelyn Waugh's character Sebastian Flyte. He is narcissistic, obsessed with his youth to the point of denial that he is actually a fat old man. His younger self, played by Nick Finegan, is on hand to remind him, as is his mother (Elizabeth George) who just won't call him her 'Golden Boy' any more.
Blow's play paints a picture of a man with a colourful past who lives in denial of his age and has retained all the characteristics of a foppish, indulged and self-centred youth. Joshua by comparison has an underlying kind nature but is tainted by a snobbishness and a sense of entitlement and sympathy for his predicament will depend on your views on inheritance.
The ghosts of the past work well and the strength of the piece is weighted more in Uncle Napier's story, rather than in Joshua's but it isn't enough to sustain the two hours and 15 minutes (including interval) running time. I'm giving it three stars and it is on at the Old Red Lion until August 27.