This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com
Informing his lover that the rich have it hard too, the hero of Simon Blow’s new play refers to Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust to prove his point. Blow himself seems more taken with Brideshead Revisited in crafting a tale of two young men who go exploring in the weird and wonderful world of the English upper classes. The play is based on experiences in the writer’s own life and his relationship with his great uncle, Stephen Tennant.
Joshua (Jojo Macari), an aspiring writer who had a troubled childhood, pairs up with his new boyfriend, builders’ labourer Damien (Denholm Spurr) and decides that it is time to learn more about his family heritage. So posh Josh and rough Damien head off into the country to meet the former’s great uncle Napier, who, it transpires is also partial to gents from the working classes, specifically tattooed sailors.
Screens open out to reveal a bellowing Napier (Bernard O’Sullivan) reclining on a chaise longue in his country house and they close again for all other scenes to be enacted in the small space in front of them. Rosie Mayhew’s set design does little to help director Jeffrey Mayhew’s consistently awkward production.
Napier’s house has two ghosts – his younger self (Nick Finegan) and his mother (Elizabeth George) – and we learn how he is an unpublished poet and a painter whose works have never been exhibited. In his youth, he had a Bohemian lifestyle of privilege and excess and names such as Bacon, Beaton, Cocteau, Garbo, Sassoon and Woolf, are dropped casually into his anecdotes.
Blow emphasises Napier’s eccentricity by contrasting him with the tiresomely boring Joshua. The young Napier had gone globetrotting to mingle with icons of the arts worlds and to make lusty assignations with multi-patterned matelots in Marseilles. Joshua stays at home and feels sorry for himself. The eccentric Napier ought to be a source of great mirth, but eccentricity is most fun when served up with generous helpings of wit and, sadly, Blow gives us eccentricity on its own.
Here we have a look into a bygone age that is neither nostalgic nor sentimental nor informative nor meaningful. Perhaps this disappointing little play would be best consigned to the past without undue delay.
Performance date: 5 August 2016
Photo: Pamela Raith Photography