According to The Stage’s recently departed Scotland editor, Thom Dibden, comedy first overtook theatre as the largest proportion of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe’s programme during the 2010s—so is presenting a one-man theatre show about a comedian actually attempting to have a foot in both camps? It’s fair to say that it works—for the most part. Though that’s as much down to Samuel Barnett’s no-holds-barred performance, as Marcelo Dos Santos’s writing.
Barnett is absolutely fantastic here; he’s funny, charismatic and importantly connects with his audience immediately
This is a monologue, structured like a stand-up set, in which a somewhat neurotic, self-depreciating and self-sabotaging gay stand-up comedian – for whom rejection is his “safe space” – reveals his growing concerns and doubts about what appears to be an unexpectedly potential long-term relationship with “the American”—who is, of course, an intelligent, cultured and drop-dead-gorgeous adonis. Our stand-up – all too familiar and comfortable in a succession of seemingly meaningless one-night stands (except for friend-with-benefits Michael in Hampstead) – has difficulty coping when sexual stimulation isn’t the primary first-date aim.
Even worse, though, is the American’s cataplexy, a medical condition that means laughing could potentially kill him. For our stand-up, who needs an audience to laugh, this is almost a deal-killer—except that, for once, he’s beginning “to feel things” and “not feel shit after”. Of course, the implied stability the American brings is also scary; and so our somewhat unreliable narrator naturally begins to self-sabotage again. The self-loathing gay might be a cliche you’d hope we’d have moved on from by now, but he’s drawn with depth, complexity and a genuine sense of the absurd.
Barnett is absolutely fantastic here; he’s funny, charismatic and importantly connects with his audience immediately—despite having to perform “in the round”, rather than in a more traditional (and helpful) stand-up-facing-audience set-up. Director Matthew Xia clearly knows his stuff, but in the end it’s actually Marcelo Dos Santos’s script which feels more fury than sound. The end result is that the self-promoting producers of Fleabag need to move on further.