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May 6, 2014updated 11 Jan 2016 2:45pm

Without private finance, plays like mine can’t exist

By Spear's

With fringe theatre, which is an exciting place for a new play such as mine to begin, private sponsorship is vital. My play, ‘The Past is a Tattooed Sailor’, requires eight actors – though there are two small parts where the same actor could play both, reducing it to seven.

None will be celebrities, which makes raising the £35,000 I need to put on the show even harder. Still, it cheers me that Simon Callow has said about the play, ‘I don’t think there has ever been anything like this in theatre before.’

Encouraged by that, it is likely that the play will transfer after its five-week run at the Courtyard Theatre in Shoreditch. That is when the West End takes over and it all drops into place, with celebrities vying for a part.

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Uncle Napier, one of the two main characters in ‘The Past is a Tattooed Sailor’, is based on my great-uncle Stephen Tennant, who remains an icon for his lifestyle – ‘the last professional beauty’, as Osbert Sitwell dubbed him – living latterly as a bed-bound recluse in his country house perched above the River Avon.

He had no illness – he just didn’t feel inclined to get up – and saw the world through his rose-tinted bedroom spectacles, letting his mind flit from one subject to the next. The play concerns my journey into his fantasy life when I was in my early twenties and how I had ultimately to free myself from it.

Like Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, Uncle Napier has erased time. He believes himself to be as beautiful as when he was that bright young thing in the 1920s and 30s who dazzled and held his audiences entranced. But the candle is now guttering – his beauty has gone and he lives on delusion.

But there is Young Napier who is in the house as though he has never left – he is the youth that Uncle Napier once was when tattooed sailors hung around him. He haunts and taunts Uncle Napier who cannot understand who this strange pleased-with-himself youth is.But Young Napier is unwittingly simply looking at his eventual self.

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Joshua – based on the author, the other co-lead – becomes central to Uncle Napier’s existence, frequently seduced from his London apartment by Uncle Napier’s persuasive demands. Joshua has nothing – no parents living and no money in spite of his privileged background.

He goes to find Uncle Napier as he has always been intrigued by this reclusive gay man. Uncle Napier likes Joshua and comes to depend on him. He becomes his favourite in the family. So where will Uncle Napier’s inheritance go? Should it not go to Joshua, who has done so much to bring hope and a sense of youth back to Uncle Napier?

But that is certainly not what the supercilious and already rich Cousin Patrick wants. It is on this point that the play ultimately revolves. Alas, for me there is no inheritance to use immediately to put on my play – but perhaps you could be a benefactor instead.

To discuss further with a view to investing please contact Simon Blow at

‘The Past is a Tattooed Sailor’ is planned to run at the Courtyard Theatre off Pitfield Street, Shoreditch, for five weeks from late September 2014

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