Funny and fearless Tim Barlow is 80 and has many of the quaint idiosyncrasies of seniors – forgetfulness, frailty and not giving a shit. In a monologue we hear of his trips to the Older Persons’ Assessment Unit, his brain scan (they didn’t find one, fnar fnar) and the brown envelopes that arrive that aren’t tax bills but assorted refunds and pension payouts. Then there are his memories: his first train set, flirting in the Empress ballroom in Blackpool, joining the army.
But when Barlow goes deaf and leaves the military in the 1960s he takes up acting as a profession and things get far more interesting. He knows the lines because he’s read the script but doesn’t pick up on the nuance of other actors because of his deafness. It’s a challenge. His story is an inspiring one. He learns about speech and movement and the importance of playing from the depth of your heart. There’s video footage from Hugo Glendinning and a live double bass (Sebastiano Dessanay). Quite what purpose the video has other than a palate cleanser is unclear.
Life is like travelling by train in the seat that doesn’t face the direction of travel – you can quite clearly see the past but not what’s round the next corner. Him, a collaboration between the actor and writer/theatre-maker Sheila Hill, is not so clear-eyed and often curiously unfocused. Octogenarian Barlow is still pretty sharp (the show is part of the Luminate creative ageing festival which often teeters close to the patronising). If only there had been more of his military career in Malaya and his life as an actor – he’s appeared in movies and Doctor Who. A lot is packed into this hour-long show and Barlow is a hugely watchable performer whose philosophy of life is an inspiration to young theatre people and anyone seriously considering getting older.