Feeling Afraid as If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen @ Summerhall

Outrageously entertaining and endlessly surprising, Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen is an extraordinary piece of theatre

Review by Josephine Balfour-Oatts | 16 Aug 2022
  • Feeling Afraid as If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen

Written by Marcelo Dos Santos, and produced by zeitgeist-whisperers Francesca Moody Productions (of Fleabag and Baby Reindeer fame), Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen is an extraordinary piece of theatre.

From a riot of music and colour, Samuel Barnett emerges, microphone in hand. Playing a stand-up comedian – a self-confessed "professional neurotic" with a lonely, anxious mother and a deceased father – his character's self-flagellating, frenetic, sense of humour is soon revealed to disguise a series of deep-rooted, unresolved traumas.

The play takes a poetical shape, afforded by refrains, both textual and technical – questions such as: “Does anyone ever come blood during sex and then feel like they’re going to die?” – and blackouts, as Barnett’s character tells and retells his story, editing its finer details to best suit him. He is an unreliable narrator (indeed, in one scene he refers to a book he claims uses just such a device), and performative elements mimic his patterns of thinking.

Intrusive thoughts come suddenly and unpredictably, with Barnett forgoing the microphone, and the space assuming a neutral lighting state. These moments of truth are highly intimate (and a testament to Matthew Xia’s direction); Barnett’s character becomes exposed, vulnerable – working in brilliant contrast with earlier, more snide, asides. Each moment has its meter, giving the piece something of a Beckettian quality – not least for the red mouth emblazoned on the back of Barnett’s shirt: a nod to our protagonist’s new boyfriend (his mouth is his defining feature) and to Beckett’s Not I.

There is an emphasis on the gaze throughout, too: the audience looks on as Barnett’s character loses purchase on his relationship, surely headed for the rocks. All the while, he looks back, coiled on a bar stool, about to spring, snap, or unspool. Barnett is a supremely talented storyteller, moving as a hummingbird moves, flitting from joke to joke. Feeling Afraid... is outrageously entertaining, and endlessly surprising – its punchline, perhaps, most surprising of all.

Feeling Afraid as If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen, Summerhall (Roundabout), until 28 Aug (not 16, 23), 7pm, £13-17