Alex Lowe: Let's Talk To Barry

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Review

This is a quirky little character piece that's been poorly marketed. As a comedy show, it's not especially laugh-out-loud funny; nor is it, as the publicity suggests, all about a bogus character winding up an LBC phone-in host, as Peter Cook infamously did with his alter-ego Sven, the Norwegian fisherman.

But if you go expecting a poignant tragi-comic monologue in the style of Alan Bennett, then you won't be disappointed.

Barry is the 81-year-old creation of actor Alex Lowe, and he did use this guise to regularly call in to Iain Lee's radio show, that much is true. However their resulting on-air conversations, which made the pensioner something of a cult hero among fellow listeners, are but a minor part of the finished live show.

Instead, it's a whimsical trip down memory lane, as Barry recalls the simpler days in a long-forgotten semi-rural Watford, where he has lived all his life. But nostalgia will only get you so far now the world has moved on. What once was an attractive small town with a strong sense of neighbourliness has been concreted over, with brutal architecture to match the brutal people who flood its streets come pub closing time. It's no place for the old, and now Barry finds the ancient wireless beside his battered armchair provides the one world in which he isn't afraid to exist proudly. This is his community now.

The bittersweet atmosphere Lowe so deftly conjures up is hardly conducive to laughter, so the sly jokes, such as they are, tend to be lost under the weight of empathy. The lightweight gags tend to be well signposted, too, many revolving around what a dump Watford is or how ugly his wife Margaret is. Though, touchingly, his insistence that he loves her regardless is convincing.

It's touches like that that make us root for Barry, especially when a loutish fellow LBC caller, with a nasty ageist chip on his shoulder, provokes our normally mild-mannered OAP to say something he might regret.

Performing in prosthetics, Lowe makes us believe 100 per cent that the near-toothless Barry is a real character, rather than some stereotypical moaning old duffer. This might feel like an hour-long Werthers Original ad (the old ones, not the cringeworthy 'modern' ones), but the depth of his character, who has real feeling and emotions yet is marginalised by the rest of the world, makes for an endearing, enduring creation.

Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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