Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going to Happen at Bush Theatre
The main space at the Bush Theatre is transformed into a comedy club. Only a microphone stand and stool adorn the stage, which sits before a pinkish-red curtain. The audience envelopes it on three sides, as the likes of Troye Sivan, George Michael and Kylie blare out. While it might not feel quite as intimate as the real thing, actor Samuel Barnett soon conjures the feeling of us all being packed closely together for an evening of stand-up. Marcelo Dos Santos’s monologue makes its way to London, bringing Barnett back with it, following an acclaimed run at last year’s Edinburgh Festival.
From the very start, we know we are in good hands with Barnett. Sauntering onto the stage, eyeing the audience and launching into his first “bit” on feeling just fine about being 36, the actor embodies all the quirks and behaviours of a seasoned comic. There are echoes of Joe Lycett here, with a campness about the actor’s movements, self-deprecating descriptions and whimsical woe-is-me tales. The actor is remarkably natural. So much so, that some might take him for an actual comedian. Many might also assume Barnett is the man behind the words. To perform someone else’s script of this nature, and to do so with such finesse and dexterity, is no mean feat and, in many ways, it feels like one of those cases whereby one cannot imagine anyone else embodying the role.
Credited only as The Comedian in the script, we quickly learn that our protagonist is somewhat of an unreliable narrator. Amending his anecdotes, changing people’s names and trying out before re-working jokes on us, we can never really distinguish between fact and fiction. He breaks down what makes jokes work, explaining how lines are both constructed and delivered to achieve maximum impact on a crowd. So believable is Barnett that you would assume he’d been treading the boards of the comedy circuit for years. He convincingly captures the inherent neuroticism of his character – a man still trying to navigate the gay dating scene, who craves to be seen as free-spirited and sexually adventurous but who is in fact just desperate to be in a relationship. The trouble is, he can’t say the words “I love you”. When he does finally land a boyfriend, it turns out the man in question is literally unable to laugh. If he does so, a medical condition that might result in his death could be triggered. It’s a genius concept for comedy, which drives much of the monologue and at one point allows Barnett to display his striking versatility as an actor.
This is an impressive play that is beautifully constructed with much of the comedy concealing a more serious exploration of human behaviours. As with most comedians, Dos Santos is acutely aware of how we all rely on light to combat the darkness of the world. Comedy and tragedy are, after all, interlinked. Our dependence but also fear of love and all it involves, along with self-doubt and the self-sabotage that can often follow, flows beneath the surface of a hilarious hour. In the high-energy hands of Barnett and director Matthew Xia, we are gifted a showcase of exceptional talent and a monologue that manages to say so much in such a short time. It is no exaggeration to describe this as a masterclass in performance and one of the more memorable male monologues of recent times.
Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going to Happen is at Bush Theatre from 10th November until 23rd December 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.