The Comedian (Samuel Barnett) is a gay, 36-year-old professional neurotic; a comedian who is very very lonely. He uses an app for a series of fleeting sexual encounters which provide physical satisfaction but little emotional connection. The short-lived nature of these relationships deepens his longing for a real connection. Things start to change when he begins a relationship with a young American. However, their budding romance faces an unexpected challenge: the American suffers from cataplexy, a (real!) potentially fatal condition triggered by laughter. It’s an ironic twist of fate for a comedian’s partner. It is even more of a challenge when this particular comedian takes the lack of laughter as an almost personal slight, telling us at the very beginning that he is ‘about to kill my boyfriend’ and hilariously threatening that at one point he might fatally tickle him.
Marcelo Dos Santos’ script works hard, he fully embraces standup comedy with the delivery of joke after joke, punchline after punchline, filthy at times but also whip-smart, a brief moment can pass for the joke to register with the audience and for the laugh to appear. Dos Santos also adeptly weaves tightly between standup routine and play, the Comedian explaining a part of his joke process but all the time reminding us that it is “unreliable first-person narration”. He rewrites himself as he goes along, changing names and locations just to make them fit better into his routine. Every joke is underpinned with exploration of a human need to not be alone.
As the relationship deepens, the Comedian grapples with the balance between his instinct to always provoke laughter but also the awareness that his boyfriend’s well-being could be at stake. Barnett’s delivery is nothing short of superb; endearing, emphatic, and profoundly human. Despite never learning his character’s name, there’s an effortless connection forged between him and the audience. In the midst of laughter, Barnett skilfully shows layers of vulnerability, exposing the sometimes desperate yearning beneath the Comedians’ surface – and constant use of humour as a defence mechanism. The moments where the Comedian forgets the mic and the act falls away are devastating for the sheer vulnerability Barnett brings to the role. Huge credit is due, he is simply excellent throughout but especially when he struggles to say ‘I love you’, it is both hilarious and hugely poignant at the same time. Crafting a performance that seamlessly evokes both laughter and tugs at the heartstrings is not only impressive but also leaves this as genuinely memorable moment.
Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen never feels like a scripted performance, it feels absolutely natural. I had to remind myself that these aren’t Barnett’s words and this isn’t a genuine revelation of his inner self on stage. It’s a testament to the brilliance of playwright Dos Santos and Barnett’s masterful acting that they can effortlessly transition from a side-splitting stand-up routine to delving into the poignant themes of loneliness and longing. It is evident why this was a sensation at the Edinburgh Fringe, and its current run at the Bush Theatre deserves similar success.
Written by: Marcelo Dos Santos
Directed by: Matthew Xia
Produced by: Francesca Moody Productions and Kater Gordon in association with Dianne Roberts and Bush Theatre
Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen plays at Bush Theatre until 23 December. Further information and tickets can be found here.