Sailor – he had a real name once, but he believes “Sailor” suits him now – is a street hustler, thief and raconteur; the illegitimate son of a prostitute who has taken up his mother’s profession among the bars, dives and flop houses of the world. His virtues are simple: rent, sex and betrayal. He lives for robbery and the power that comes with it – sex, he is the first to suggest, is simply the means to an end. Power is his aphrodisiac – well, unless you also count the absinthe and drugs. As it is for all of us, he insists.
Once met, this particular Thief is – thanks to Elliot’s performance and Rudden’s script – one you won’t forget in a hurry.
Sailor returns to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year in a slightly new form; the role’s originator Matt Roberston and last year’s debutant Stephen Humpage are this August in Edinburgh joined by Jack Elliot, who performed this one-man show on the night reviewed. His Sailor is undoubtedly a more Scottish-sounding Sailor than the others; a slightly more humorous Sailor as well, in those rare moments when life looks to be good. Yet he’s no less the centre of attention; no less a frustrated individual – being a perfectionist in this world, he points out, is torture.
Sailor is well aware of his numerous talents, is quite used to being looked at, and invites us to watch his life – the furtive sex offstage in the shadows, his times in jail where being sodomised by fellow inmates is perversely a rare opportunity for some kind of intimacy and an understanding that he is still alive. This is where we begin to truly see just how much Sailor – his activities risking a membership of the infamous 27 Club – is old before his time; and Elliot nails not just the superficial hardness behind the eyes, but the fragility of the young man’s self-worth and confidence.
In a play inspired by the work of Jean Genet, it’s hardly surprising that Sailor carries certain lyrical pretensions, explained (if not excused) by a previous dalliance with some risk-loving Parisian poet. Simply staged, there remains a certain neatness to the plotting of the play, but there’s little doubt that once met, this particular Thief is – thanks to Elliot’s performance and Rudden’s script – one you won’t forget in a hurry.