Somewhat disorientating at a festival full of actual stand-up comics, Marcelo Dos Santos’s monologue ‘Feeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen’ is a play structured like a stand-up set, with Samuel Barnett’s neurotic gay comedian protagonist working up a routine apparently based upon his character’s real love life.
It’s framed around his relationship with a nice American man, whose personal details are chopped and changed as the show wears on, but who is always extremely hench (I learned the phrase ‘cum gutters’!) and extremely affable, to the point that he somewhat freaks Barnett’s character out - all the more so when he discovers that his new boyfriend has a medical condition that stops him laughing.
The meat of the show is the comedian’s suspicion – and, indeed, fear – of the stability the American offers, and his constant indulgence in largely depressing casual sex on the side. The title comes from his innate, self-loathing fatalism: he doesn’t allow himself to enjoy life because he’s already convinced the worst will happen. Maybe the self-loathing gay fuckup who is also a comedian trades in a few tropes, but the eventual problem he faces – that it infuriates him his boyfriend doesn’t laugh at any of his jokes, even though doing so might literally kill him – is a pleasingly absurdist one.
It’s funny, and it takes real skill from director Matthew Xia to direct an actor in a small in-the-round quasi-stand-up set. Barnett is absolutely terrific: funny and charismatic and pitiful, but also just really believable – for reasons I'd best not go into, it seemed apparent that a number of people in the audience were convinced he was telling a true story about himself.
But ultimately I thought it felt a bit lacking in identity: on the one hand, we’re at a festival with hundreds of real stand-ups, some creating much more boldly theatrical work than this. On the other hand, there’s just no denying that it all plays out a bit like ‘Fleabag’. An entertaining, sometimes outrageous hour, brought to a very skilled climax. But in the end there’s something a little ersatz about it.