Samuel Barnett is spectacular in Marcelo Dos Santos’ excellent Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen at the Bush Theatre
“I think about tickling him”
It’s always neat when a writer gets to have a moment and right now, that’s happening for Marcelo Dos Santos as he has two plays currently running in London. What is particularly impressive though is how different they are – out in the West End is the crowd-pleasing fun of Backstairs Billy but over in Shepherd’s Bush is the razor-sharp monologue Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen.
A hit in Edinburgh in 2022, the show has kept its star, Samuel Barnett, who offers up a storming performance as The Comedian who we follow for an hour or so as he rehearses and performs a stand-up routine that is based on his life experiences. Somewhere in his mid-30s and permanently single, he’s finally met someone who could be the one but self-sabotaging behaviour lurks alarmingly close to the surface.
What’s particularly clever here is the way that Dos Santos’ has his protagonist be constantly self-editorialising, adapting and refining his stories for use in his stand-up, so much so that he’s increasingly an unreliable narrator. It’s as much an insightful look at the construction of comedy as it is about the psychology of middle-aged gay men who can’t stay off Grindr, but it is highly effective at both.
Matthew Xia directs with a beautifully judged sensibility for both sides of this coin, curating brilliantly quick-change work from his creative team (Elliott Griggs’ lighting a stand-out). And Barnett really is astonishingly good, utterly convincing as a stand-up but layering in real depth of characters as fragility and neurosis comes into play – ferociously affecting and entertaining, unmissable.