Theatre: Debut: Patrick Barlow

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The Independent Culture
The role: Ga-Ga in Why Bournemouth?

The year: 1968

The place: The Ambience Lunchtime Theatre Club, London

THE FIRST job I had was with a community theatre company called Inter- Action which was based opposite the Roundhouse in North London. A group of us came down from Birmingham University and lived together in close proximity on subsistence wages. Inter-Action was run by an amazing man called Ed Berman who pioneered the idea of community art in this country. We all realised it was extremely innovative and I was rather snooty about people going into straight plays, although I think I was secretly jealous. If a job had been going at the RSC, I'd have gone like a shot.

One of the many projects operating under the wing of Inter-Action was a lunch-hour theatre club in the basement of a restaurant called the Ambience in Queensway. It was run by a strange guy in a turban called Jay, who slept in the loo, and his rather acerbic partner who didn't like theatre and didn't like me.

I was what was laughably known as the stage manager - I'd never done any stage management before in my life, but I had to rig up the lighting and the sound.

My first proper show there was a comedy called Why Bournemouth? by John Antrobus. I did the lights, and also played this character called Ga-Ga who had to rave about the stage. The joke was that he came on for no reason - it was a surrealist play - and dribbled and gurned. The whole show stopped, everyone stared, I'd go off and the dialogue would run: "Who's that?" "That's Ga-Ga." "He should see a psychiatrist." "He is a psychiatrist." It got a big laugh every time.

I was about 21 and quickly got fed up doing the lights, but soon afterwards, we started doing children's theatre and writing our own stuff. We did a lot of street theatre and work in prisons. It was fantastic training in terms of learning how to handle an audience. I left after three years and went to run a theatre-in-education company at the Duke's Playhouse in Lancaster.

Careers are a funny thing. I used to think: "If only I had gone to drama school, I would have got down the road much faster," but if I hadn't gone to university, I wouldn't have gone to Inter-Action. And if I hadn't done that, I wouldn't have learnt about the theatre I love doing - experiences which fed directly into the National Theatre of Brent. In fact, I'd be a different person completely, which doesn't really bear thinking about.

Patrick Barlow is in the National Theatre of Brent's `Love Upon the Throne', at the Comedy Theatre, London SW1 (0171-369 1731)

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