QX interviews Marcelo Dos Santos writer of Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen, Bush Theatre.

Marcelo Dos Santos talks to QX about his new play Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible is Going To Happen.

Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen is the story of a man who, after years of swiping and being a permanently single, professionally neurotic stand-up, finally meets Mr Right – and then does everything wrong. 

Described as ‘razor sharp’ by The Scotsman, Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen is a hit play from the producers of the Olivier award-winning Baby Reindeer and the international smash-hit Fleabag. The show stars the double Tony Award-winning and Olivier Award nominee Samuel Barnett, and is directed by Matthew Xia, the award-winning Artistic Director of the Actors Touring Company.

QX caught up with the writer, Marcelo Dos Santos, who won a Scotsman Fringe First award for Excellence in New Writing for this monologue in 2022

What inspired your play, “Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen”? 

It started with me just wanting to write about gay dating in your 30s; in all its funny, sometimes lovely, sometimes messy glory. But it was also important to me that if I was going to write a one-person show, it should feel exciting as a piece of theatre. Once I landed on the fact the character was a stand-up and that the show was a sort of stand-up, a meta-element was introduced, and it became a lot more twisty and surprising.

Can you tell us something about the play’s character and his motivations, and what is the significance of the laughing logo on Barnett’s shirt? 

Well, he uses his humour as armour, as a way of warding off intimacy. It’s a coping mechanism a lot of people develop. He’s desperate for love but often pushes people away or self-sabotages. That push and pull is interesting and sad and, I think, familiar to a lot of people. The logo references the fact he’s a comedian, but there is something about the bared teeth, which is also hopefully a bit unnerving and intriguing.  

Feeling Afraid… deals with psychology and humour. There’s a dark side, yet the play is hilarious and full of gags. Could you tell us more about how you’ve balanced the two elements?

It’s not really a conscious choice or technique. I just always respond to work, which is both funny and dark. It definitely is funny, but I think the fact it’s grounded in real and quite complex feelings gives it depth. But it is funny! Promise. (He says, panicking.)

Feeling Afraid is a gay show at The Bush Theatre in London.

Gay men’s hookup culture features a lot in queer storytelling these days. Why do you think that is?  

I wouldn’t want to speak for anyone else, but I suppose it’s because hookups are a feature of gay and queer life – and probably always have been – and queer writers want to represent their experiences. 

Are there any personal experiences or influences that shaped the narrative of your script? 

Oh, I mean, some of the hookup stories are true (some, not all), or they’ve happened to friends, but actually, it’s not directly autobiographical. I don’t struggle with commitment, but I have friends who do, and I’ve dated people who do for sure, and that has probably found its way into the script. Saying that the tendency to catastrophise and worry that something terrible is going to happen is all me.

How does your script challenge the structure of traditional stand-up comedy routines? 

I don’t know if it challenges them so much as it fuses them more directly with theatre. I love stand-up, and I love theatre.

The play has a pace and structure that maintains the audience’s engagement. How have you achieved that?

By really trying to keep the storytelling as tight as possible. There have been longer versions, but as soon as it felt like it was digressing too much from the central story and question or it was becoming episodic, we cut it. We’ve tried to find more space in this version and more laughs, but its tightness is important for keeping people on the ride.

You’ve been working with a great team. Please tell us something about that experience.

Working on this play with these people and our experiences in Edinburgh have genuinely been some of the nicest in my life. Matthew Xia, the director, is a very funny, calming presence, Samuel Barnett is one of my favourite actors and people on the planet and Francesca Moody, the producer, has made it all happen while also just allowing us loads of space to play. And all the creative and stage management team are brill. It’s lovely. No notes.

What do you hope the audience will take away from watching “Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen”? 

I don’t necessarily want to tell people what to feel, but I hope it potentially makes people think a bit about how we treat ourselves and each other when we’re dating or hooking up. But mostly, I just want audiences to have a really great night at the theatre and spend the rest of the night chatting about it. 

You have a lot on at the moment. What projects are you working on, and what can we look forward to in the near future?

I currently also have a play on in the West End called Backstairs Billy, which is about the Queen Mother’s relationship with her gay butler, starring Penelope Wilton and Luke Evans. I also have a few TV dramas in development, and I’d love to keep writing for theatre.

Online Tickets: https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/event/feeling-afraid-as-if-something-terrible-is-going-to-happen/

Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going to Happen is at the Bush Theatre, 10 November – 23 December




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