The Past is a Tattooed Sailor | Old Red Lion Theatre | Review

Old Red Lion Theatre | August 2nd – 28th 2016

The Past is a Tattooed Sailor | Review


A Bittersweet Treat – The Past is a Tattooed Sailor


If Brideshead Revisited’s Sebastian Flyte had grown up, stayed insolent, and taken to his bed as an old man-boy, he would no doubt be the carbon copy of Uncle Napier, the great-uncle of Simon Blow’s semi-autobiographical doppleganger, Joshua, in The Past is a Tattooed Sailor.


Fans of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisted will relish newcomer Simon Blow’s bittersweet treat, the painfully personal coming-of-age tale of a young man caught between the (literal) ghosts of his family’s past, and the realities of his present.


When young orphan Joshua (played with heart-rending naivety by Jojo Macari) seeks out his great-uncle Napier, who has taken to his bed for the past 30 years, he has little idea of what awaits him. Based on Blow’s own great-uncle, “The brightest of the Bright Young Things”, purported lover to Oscar Wilde and central member of the inter-war literary elite, the self-described “mercurial” Uncle Napier is quite a character.

The Past is a Tattooed Sailor (c) Pamela Raith Photography (2)

Securely ensconced in his cocoon of nostalgia, Napier rambles and name-drops for much of the play, whilst Joshua listens on, both entranced and repulsed. Joshua’s more down-to-earth boyfriend Damien (played with charisma and warmth by Denholm Spur) provides an excellent counterpoint to the narcissistic world of Blow’s ancestral pile, even if his gritty charm does occasionally veer into caricature (“bangers and chips would do me just fine, mate”).

The Past is a Tattooed Sailor (c) Pamela Raith Photography (4) The Past is a Tattooed Sailor (c) Pamela Raith Photography (1)



At nearly 2 and half hours, The Past is a Tattooed Sailor is not for the faint-hearted. This bittersweet play meanders at times but there are some beautiful and touching moments, where Blow explores the emotions of his family’s past. Bernard O’Sullivan is a captivatingly repulsive Uncle Napier, providing an entrancing study in the extremes of self-delusion. Blow’s lyrical dialogue occasionally teeters into excess, but on the whole, Tattooed Sailor is an enjoyable and thought-provoking experience that intentionally irritates whilst it enchants, much like Napier himself.


Reviewer : Jasmine Crellin

Photo Credit : Pamela Raith


The Past is a Tattooed Sailor is being performed  August 2nd 2016 – August 28th 2016 at the Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John St, London EC1V 4NJ

Performances are Tuesday – Saturday, 7.30pm, Saturday matinees at 2.30pm & Sunday matinees at 3pm

Ticket Price £10 / £14 / £17
Box Office  0844 412 4307 or ticketweb