Roundabout at Summerhall, Edinburgh
The offerings at Roundabout during Fringe are generally very good, but this year their shows are really knocking it out of the park. If this sounds like my cue to say something like, “unfortunately, not in this case,” please don’t be misled. Feeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen is (apart from its tortuous title) another solid-gold winner. At the packed show we attend, the crowd are clearly spell-bound by Samuel Barnett’s performance and that’s perfectly understandable. He inhabits his role completely, spitting out a constant stream of pithy one liners and wry observations with apparent ease. Marcelo Dos Santos’ script is utterly compelling and Matthew Xia’s exemplary direction ensures that the pace is never allowed to flag.
Barnett plays a thirty-six-year-old comedian (we never actually learn his name), gigging in various pubs and clubs around London. He’s gay and happy to explore his sexuality with the many random strangers he meets online, but things change dramatically for him when he encounters ‘The American,’ a handsome guy who, unlike most of his hookups, is clearly in no great hurry to get him into bed.
As the relationship develops, our nameless protagonist begins to wonder if this might actually be the real thing. You know, love and all that.
But then he learns that The American suffers from a very rare condition…
As I’ve already said, Barnett performs this so confidently that I find myself completely immersed in his story, which struts a masterful path from laugh-out-loud jokes to poignant, heart-tugging observations. I quite overlook the fact that the narrator is working me like a master magician, mesmerising me, misdirecting me, even scattering a trail of clues which I somehow manage to overlook. The result? When the piece reaches its conclusion, I feel as though I’ve been punched in the solar plexus.
Both Barnett and Dos Santos deserve huge praise for what is undoubtedly one of the best collaborations between writer and performer that I’ve ever witnessed – and, once again, Roundabout proves to be the perfect performance space for a show like this.
If Feeling Afraid… isn’t on your bucket list, it’s not too late to put it there. Just saying.