Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Simon Blow: The Past Is A Tattooed Sailor

By | Published on Thursday 28 July 2016


The latest new work to head over to the Old Red Lion Theatre is ‘The Past Is A Tattooed Sailor’, a fictionalised account of historical events concerning the family of its writer, Simon Blow. It’s set in a long gone world of wealth, glamour and eccentric characters.
To find out more about the play, and what inspired him to tell this story, I spoke to Simon ahead of the upcoming run.

CM: To begin with, can you tell us a bit about the show – where is it set, and where does the narrative take us?
SB: The play is mostly set in Uncle Napier’s country house – called Sky – it is based on my Uncle Stephen’s house, which was Wilsford Manor set on the banks of the Avon in Wiltshire. Wilsford is a major Arts and Crafts house created by my paternal Grandfather Detmar Blow for my mother’s grandmother Pamela – mother of Uncle Stephen. Pamela is Helena in the play.

CM: How much is the issue of class and class struggle dealt with in the play?
SB: The class issue is shown by Damien – Joshua’s working class boyfriend – also by Uncle Napier making demands on Matthew his manservant. But this is not a politically motivated play. It is about people coming from different backgrounds, and it is inevitable that class will show its face.

CM: What other themes is it concerned with?
SB: The play is about a search for love – viz Uncle Napier’s yearnings. The greed of already rich families to have more – see Cousin Patrick and how he lectures the orphaned Joshua who has lost everything by comparison with Cousin Patrick’s inherited wealth.

CM: What inspired you to write a play on this subject?
SB: I wanted to make a dramatic story of this part of my life. Gradually my characters based on true people in my extraordinary family were coming alive on the page. As that happened I couldn’t hold back. It was like opening Pandora’s Box.

CM: What was the process of creating it like, given your personal connection to the subject it’s based on? Did you research much, or was the information at your fingertips?
SB: No research. It came effortlessly out of my memory. I can hear voices and reproduce them. I was told by someone who knew her that I have my Aunt Margot Asquith’s sense of mimicry. Margot was my great-grandfather’s sister – born Margot Tennant. If there is a personal connection like dramatising yourself, for I am Joshua, some artistic chemistry enables this to happen and I quite forgot how daunted I was at the start. It just happened.

CM: This is your debut play, isn’t it? What drew you to this medium? Did you always want to write?
SB: Yes. I always wanted to write plays and novels. But I had no private money – which a writer does need to stay alive, and so to write – a writer needs peace to contemplate and financial freedom. There was family money – a country estate with land – but when my father’s younger brother murdered their mother – my grandmother – for gain, that was it. For a while I worked as an editor in publishing but I threw that up as it was a hindrance to what I wanted to do. Journalism didn’t get me where I wanted either – it nearly destroyed me in that it consumes all one’s time. Now I have got there with this play – and a completed novel too – I will do whatever to write more plays and more fiction. I am bursting with ideas.

CM: How involved have you been with the production? As playwright, have you stepped back, or are you a regular presence in the rehearsal room?
SB: I own the play, it is an asset which I treasure. I am at most of the rehearsals – to see one’s creation come alive on stage is, for me, tantalising, exciting, amazing. I am blessed with a wonderful producer/general manager in David Adkin and an equally marvellous director in Jeffrey Mayhew. To say nothing of my lovely cast of actors.

CM: What hopes do you have for the play following its staging at the Old Red Lion?
SB: We hope it will move and move and grow. This only the beginning of the journey. That is how we all see it.

CM: Do you have any other projects planned?
SB: My next play will be on the scandalous love affair between the writer Madame de Genlis and Philippe Egalite and their illegitimate child known as La Belle Pamela who married Lord Edward Fitzgerald who died to free Ireland in the first uprising against English rule in 1798. I descend from their union. Also one on myself called ‘Why Am I Here?’ So two plays.

‘The Past Is A Tattooed Sailor’ is on at The Old Red Lion Theatre from 2-28 Aug. See the venue website here for more info and to book.