“I keep coming back to sex and death – but, you know, in a fun way.” Meet Marcelo Dos Santos
With a day to go until Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen bursts onto our stage, we caught up with writer Marcelo Dos Santos to get the inside scoop on his inspirations for the play and how it feels to, as he says, “put it all out there”.
“I’m inspired by messy people and situations”
As we sit down between runs of the play, Marcelo tells us that the play began because he wanted to write about the experience of dating as a gay man in your 30s.
“I felt like that hadn’t quite been shown before – or I hadn’t felt seen in some way. I wanted to show gay dating and casual sex in all its messy, funny, painful glory. But it was also important to me that if I was going to write a one-person show that it should feel like something live, something theatrical. Once I realised that the character was a stand-up, and that the show was a sort of stand-up, the form and metaphors almost opened themselves up for me.”
With a long list of playwright heroes and a penchant for reality TV – “I don’t really go out on Saturdays because that’s Strictly” – Marcelo’s inspirations are broad-ranging. “I’m inspired by messy people and situations. I also keep coming back to sex and death – but, you know, in a fun way.”
With his new play about the Queen Mother and her aide Backstairs Billy opening on the West End this autumn, and previously having written plays for young people and adapting the Lionboy novels for Complicité, we ask if Feeling Afraid… feels like quite a different project.
“It really felt like it was coming from me – I just let rip really. I applied for Arts Council money during the pandemic and used that to assemble the team of Samuel Barnett and Matthew Xia. I was doing it for me rather than the industry, because at that time who knew if the industry was going to survive.”
“I finally let myself write what I wanted to write.”
Marcelo mentions Waleed Akhtar’s The P Word, Tyrell Williams’ Red Pitch and Tom Wells’ The Kitchen Sink as previous Bush shows that have inspired him through the years – all plays that changed the careers of their writers.
As we look back, Marcelo reflects on the way Feeling Afraid… feels like it’s changing his own career. “Feeling Afraid premiering at Edinburgh in 2022 felt so validating and rewarding. I’d been working in the industry for over 12 years at that point and yet I’d never quite felt like the shows that had actually been produced were totally me. It had taken a long time but I felt like I finally let myself write what I wanted to write. And had been given a big platform, which obviously, helps.”
“There is a magic when it all comes together – the words, the actors and the audience…”
We get chatting about going to the theatre, and Marcelo says “the chat after, ideally, should go on longer than the play.” Lucky, then, that Feeling Afraid… is a tight hour! “Yes – I prefer everything to be either around an hour, or if it’s longer it has to have an interval. I do like going with friends and getting a drink after.”
As we start wrapping up and Marcelo heads back into the rehearsal room, we ask him why he writes, and why he kept writing even through the pandemic. “I think it probably is a bit of an unhealthy compulsion because it’s not the easiest life but there is a magic when it all comes together – the words, the actors and the audience.” After a pause, he adds: “And I suppose there is some ego – deep down I must think I have something to say and an interesting way of saying it.”
Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen opens on 10 Nov. Find out more and get tickets here.
Image: Marcelo Dos Santos (centre) with Samuel Barnett (left) and Matthew Xia (right). Photo by The Other Richard.