BY SIMON BLOW
DIRECTED BY JEFFREY MAYHEW
2nd – 27th August 2016
Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John St. London EC1V 4NJ
3 Stars ***
Presented in a delightful pub theatre, David Adkins production of “The Past is a Tattooed Sailor” has a wonderful little set beautifully painted (Designer Rosie Mayhew)! I found myself studying the set a fair bit during the show and seeing references within the mural detail.
With an auditorium of church pews placed at 90 angles to each other and the set straddling the room on the hypotenuse you’re never more than a few feet away from the actors. The floor, clearly marking the actors’ territory, might have benefited from some paint treatment.
However, “Simon Blow’s fiercely witty and bittersweet new drama” autobiographical play does not have much of a story – it starts and ends with an old man lazing on a chaise longue reminiscing for 2 hours whilst sipping sherry. He talks of having had quite the life, and with an incredibly well cast company of accomplished actors (Benjamin Newsome Casting) you’d hope to see some of this alleged action, not just hear it talked about.
The cast do what they can with the overly-wordy script, each of them showing more interest in the old man’s story than the audience manage. How they remember all the lines is beyond me but full credit to them for keeping up the pace and interest.
With ancestral ghosts wandering on and off throughout I felt sorry for them having nothing of importance to say.
Despite all this there were some great character portrayals. Nick Finegan as a young ghost of the old man provided a dreamy atmosphere. With clear diction and sure-footed delivery he provided welcome interludes. But what on earth was a ghost doing wearing a muscle vest and grey potato sack-race trousers with elasticised waist, huge belt hoops and no belt? His costume was truly hideous and distracted from his scenes! Denholm Spurr in various ruffian guises was amazingly charismatic, believable in each character and provided a lot of highlight. I enjoyed his scenes and performance.
The Lighting Design (Sam Waddington) was perfect! Expertly transporting us from interior drawing room to sunny glades while maintaining visibility of actor’s faces. Enough dynamic variations to keep it interesting. The Sound Design (James Lord) enhanced the atmosphere with Bird Song and various other SFX throughout. Choice of nostalgic songs played on the old gramophone was only marred by the man-servant having to fetch the records from backstage every time. Wouldn’t a drawing room have favourite records stacked within easy reach nearby to the gramophone?
All in all, there’s a lot to like with this production. A lot of talent involved. Much braver direction of the scenes could possibly have rescued this unfortunately bland story.