Him

 

It is often hard to associate this kind of journalistic verbatim performance with our preformed notions of theatre, yet, through its subtlety, there was something so charmingly dramatic about ‘Him.’ The performance paints a poignant reflection of the life of eighty year-old Tim Barlow, former soldier turned actor, through a series of anecdotes charted from a twenty-year friendship with writer and director Sheila Hill.

I had initial reservations about this performance, failing to see the satisfaction in watching this monologue of x hours about an actor, undoubtedly fascinating, yet falling utterly wasted upon the head of a preoccupied, essay-ridden student, but I was pleasantly surprised. Entering the theatre and leaving my coat on, (it was that awful middle-ground temperature that’s too cold for a t-shirt but too warm for central heating) there was a quiet uneasiness over the audience as the stage stood empty, forbye a single chair downstage right and a large screen in the centre of the floor. Spotlights illuminated these objects, as well as lighting a small circle on the left-hand side parallel to the chair.

The room then erupts into 1950s dance music a la Glenn Miller, and two figures enter the stage: the first, a young man clutching a double bass enters the spot of light, whilst a slow-walking, hunched figure, clearly Tim Barlow, enters on the opposite side, sitting down on the chair. It is actually remarkable how fit and healthy this man appears, and certainly eighty years is no dampener on his spirits. He exudes a confidence that only a history of acting could have fashioned.

He turns to the audience, holds for a beat, and delivers a powerful line: “It is funny thing getting old.” The piece will go on to reflect on the hardships (and luxuries) of growing old, the triumphs and trivialities of his various occupations, and the grief of his loss of hearing, and hence its exciting return. It exists somewhat as a snapshot of an interview, as the audience hang attentively onto every word, every beat, every second of silence that this man releases. There is an extremely powerful moment where Barlow talks about his loss of hearing, and the turmoil he feels in the theatre as he watches a performance and can barely hear it – he disrupts the flow of words with a minute-long silence, which not only allows Barlow to catch his breath but also allows the audience to take a beat, to hang on to those sentences and really dwell on them. It is an incredibly unique experience, to hear these anecdotes with no conversational nuances disrupting them.

The anecdotes are punctuated by live music from Sebastiano Dessanay, who is a lively and entertaining performer. Notably, him and Barlow have a wonderful relationship, Dessanay who smirks whilst Barlow achingly stands and dances a robotic jive. Dessanay’s attention to melodic structure and clever use of improvisation weaves well into the pre-recorded music on the screen; sometimes it is ambience sound-tracking a poignant Barlow’s walk through the woods, and other times it is the staccato bass pattern of rock and roll dance music of the fifties that parallels a dancing Barlow on the projection. This symbiotic relationship is influential and stirring to witness on stage.

Most poignantly, Barlow reflects on a philosopher and his views on living and the future: “I’m living my life in this direction,” he points behind him, “[and] the future is behind me – we don’t know what lies in

piece will go on to reflect on the hardships (and luxuries) of growing old, the triumphs and trivialities of his various occupations, and the grief of his loss of hearing, and hence its exciting return. It exists somewhat as a snapshot of an interview, as the audience hang attentively onto every word, every beat, every second of silence that this man releases. There is an extremely powerful moment where Barlow talks about his loss of hearing, and the turmoil he feels in the theatre as he watches a performance and can barely hear it – he disrupts the flow of words with a minute-long silence, which not only allows Barlow to catch his breath but also allows the audience to take a beat, to hang on to those sentences and really dwell on them. It is an incredibly unique experience, to hear these anecdotes with no conversational nuances disrupting them.

The anecdotes are punctuated by live music from Sebastiano Dessanay, who is a lively and entertaining performer. Notably, him and Barlow have a wonderful relationship, Dessanay who smirks whilst Barlow achingly stands and dances a robotic jive. Dessanay’s attention to melodic structure and clever use of improvisation weaves well into the pre-recorded music on the screen; sometimes it is ambience sound-tracking a poignant Barlow’s walk through the woods, and other times it is the staccato bass pattern of rock and roll dance music of the fifties that parallels a dancing Barlow on the projection. This symbiotic relationship is influential and stirring to witness on stage.

Most poignantly, Barlow reflects on a philosopher and his views on living and the future: “I’m living my life in this direction,” he points behind him, “[and] the future is behind me – we don’t know what lies in wake, we don’t know what’s coming, we don’t know what we’re going to run into. But the past opens out in front of us.” It’s this self-reflective philosophy that allows Barlow to appreciate the vast scope of his life, his excellency, his failures, and to successfully dwell on the important, sometimes small, things in life.

Unfortunately for an audience member of not even twenty years, I found this exceptionally difficult to effectively reflect on my life the same way Barlow does, but his philosophy remains: it is important to enter the future ‘backwards,’ taking every opportunity and living life blind. Generally, however, the audience are very receptive and chuckle (or perhaps expel more air out of their nose than usual) at Barlow’s obvious wit.

Overall, the set design is sharp and commanding, and the consistency in the stage design and the grayscale colour scheme on the projection is wonderfully synergetic. It is an exceptionally poignant performance, and Barlow is charmingly enjoyable to watch, yet perhaps my understanding of the show would have been enhanced had I fit better with the demographic of the audience.

 

Review by Luke Morley

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