“It’s quite comfortable being old,” 80 year old actor Tim Barlow tells us at the start of his latest one-man show, a work co-devised with the writer Sheila Hill. Apparently, our “senior” years can be a more peaceful period in our lives, although there’s always a downside—not least that memory and mind are no longer as sharp as they once were. Certainly, this seems to be Barlow’s experience; realising that it’s taking him longer now to memorise lines—yes, he’s still a working actor—he went to see his GP, which led to an appointment at an Older Persons’ Assessment Unit and the eventual diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment. Which, for all we know, is simply a medical term for the anger and confusion felt by older patients forced to do increasingly annoying and difficult mental tasks!
The heart of the show, however, is simply Barlow chatting to us
Him is simply staged; in an otherwise empty space, there’s a chair for Barlow to sit on, a large screen for some video elements, and a double-bass—played live by Sebastian Dessanay, sometimes to mark an interlude in proceedings, other times to accompany what’s being shown on the screen. The heart of the show, however, is simply Barlow chatting to us, speaking with the distinctive nuance of those with a hearing impairment. He has the air of some gentle grandfather, with stories to tell.
From early childhood to his decade or so in the British Army, and then his return to Civvy Street bang in the middle of Swinging Sixties London, hindsight paints Barlow as one of those lucky actors—never a star, but always in work. Superficially, Him is about his love of big band music, Blackpool’s famous Winter Gardens, and learning to live—indeed, thrive—with hearing loss. Yet, although there are obvious gaps—there’s no mention of how he met his wife, for example, she’s just suddenly mentioned at one point—the constant thread linking all his stories remains the two constants none of us can avoid. Ageing and dying.
Although warm and charming, Him unfortunately lacks a final knock-out punchline—the sort of clear conclusion which ensures its audience has something to really remember as they leave the auditorium. As a theatrical work, Him is arguably best suited to a more intimate performance space; for despite Barlow’s best efforts, it all felt a bit small and insignificant on the stage of Traverse One.