wed 19/06/2024

Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen, Bush Theatre review - charismatic stand-up routine | reviews, news & interviews

Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen, Bush Theatre review - charismatic stand-up routine

Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen, Bush Theatre review - charismatic stand-up routine

Samuel Barnett performs a sizzling monologue about sex and fatal attraction

Hunk hunt: Samuel Barnett in ‘Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen’. The Other Richard

The Comedian runs, bounces even, onto the stage. The audience immediately applauds. He seizes the mic and makes self-deprecatory gestures. Then he rubs the mic stand suggestively. We laugh. When he turns around we can see a laughing mouth printed on the back of his shirt. It’s Samuel Barnett – former history boy and star of stage and screen – and the audience instantly warms to him. He’s that kind of guy.

Which is just as well because the Comedian who delivers Marcelo Dos Santos’s 65-minute monologue, now at the Bush Theatre after opening last year at the Edinburgh Fringe, is not completely likeable. He has problems.

Joking that a better title for his work is “sad for pay”, or “professional neurotic”, the stand-up Comedian introduces himself as a 36-year-old who’s never been in “a proper relationship” – that is, until he meets the American, a beautiful man with perfect teeth who is also attracted to him. On their first date in Hackney, the Comedian demonstrates why he is still single: he is constantly apologising, excruciatingly self-conscious and unable to be truly honest. But he’s also very funny; we laugh with him, at him, along with him. His jokes are great and his new-found love looks, feels even, very much like the real thing.

Then he invites the American to one of his gigs. A show in which he creates laughter out of the traumas that have been his experience of growing up. Everything goes great, his audience is buzzing, except for one thing. The Comedian’s boyfriend doesn’t laugh – not once. This is because he suffers from one terrible condition: he has a nerve condition called cataplexy – similar to narcolepsy – which means that strong emotional triggers such as laughter or excessive excitement are dangerous. A sudden joke could kill him. He is constantly at risk.

So this monologue is about a very odd, but somehow very apt, couple: the neurotic English guy with self-esteem issues and the confident American guy who simply can’t let go. But as well as being an acute and perceptive character study, the one-man show is also a brilliant stand-up routine. The Comedian not only narrates the story of his relationship, he also dissects the anatomy of a comedy gig, explains the workings of slapstick, and comments constantly on tension between autobiographical material and real life. Anecdotes and names are continuously unreliable. At the same time, he is also constantly drawn back to the hook-up app and its promise of sexual pleasure without emotional commitment.

Dos Santos, whose Backstairs Billy is currently wowing audiences in the West End, writes beautifully: he sets up expectations by having his Comedian start the show three times, each variation telling us something new about the character, before the final one which ends with: “I’m 36, I’m a comedian, and I’m about to kill my boyfriend.” It’s intriguing; it’s funny and sometimes it’s filthy. His gigs usually open with a question to the audience: “Anyone ever cum blood while having sex and feel like you’re going to die?” There are mentions of pissing on Czech twinks and of semen gutters.

At the same time, as befits a romance, there are lovely scenes when our couple visit art galleries to check out old master paintings of fit young men, or cuddle up to watch the telly. But the Comedian’s neurotic drives, his deep pain, his grief, is always there, lurking just under the surface, ready to spring out and spoil everything. That’s the trouble with meeting Mr Right – the American’s perfection ups the stakes. Our Comedian is repeatedly tempted, by forces he barely understands, to fuck things up, and we can see this even more clearly than he does. As it’s title suggests, Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen is a compelling play that mixes laughs with emotional tension.

Here humour is shown to be both a personal and obsessive defence mechanism against the pain of bad stuff, and a metaphor for Englishness, a culture which swerves away from the truth of economic pain by hyping up the fun in our public culture. The need to make people laugh puzzles the American and Dos Santos cleverly shows how the Comedian can’t leave joking alone. Even when he sees a therapist for some CBT, he answers the questionnaire about his fears of something terrible happening with a 10 out of 10 – then immediately scribbles a smiley face next to the answer. It’s a neat example of his compulsive need to be liked.

Barnett plays the role with utter conviction, whether smiling awkwardly or looking devastated, and he uses his voice like a musical instrument, fluting through various registers, hitting falsetto peaks and then dipping into sadder tones. He gives voice to the American, to his own mother, and a small cast of other comics and pick-ups. Matthew Xia’s compelling production is like a wild taxi ride, with rapid accelerations, sudden turns, screeching stops, and Barnett uses the stage with enormous confidence and charisma, occasionally dropping the mic to deliver a personal revelation from the Comedian, or allowing a bit of amplified feedback to grate on our nerves. It’s the monologue of the year.


Dos Santos, whose ‘Backstairs Billy’ is currently wowing audiences in the West End, writes beautifully


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters