Review - Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag at Wyndham's Theatre
A few years ago, Phoebe Waller-Bridge was performing her gem of a play at the Edinburgh Fringe which earned her the title of a ‘promising talent’. In the following years, her meteoric rise has seen her play become a cult TV classic (as has her second TV show Killing Eve), she’s become a writer in the upcoming James Bond film, a sell-out Broadway run, and she’s landed the illustrious job Stateside of hosting Saturday Night Live – a real indicator of how global a name Waller-Bridge has become.
But tonight, at the Wyndham’s, she’s Fleabag once again. Performing the character so many have laughed at, winced with and related to on stage one final time in what is one of the theatre events of the year.
Waller-Bridge embodies her unnamed character who spends half the hour-long act narrating incidents from her life, and the other musing on decisions she’s made, questioning her motives, unravelling her own mind before us.
She takes us by the wrist and drags us at a pace through break-ups, hook-ups, family and friends. She vocalises the thoughts that tickle your mind for a split second, before you realise you’re a horrible person and should probably block them out. It’s awkward, dirty, witty and raw.
As with anything brilliant, the TV show brought about think pieces about why it was not. One that grabbed the Twittersphere was that Fleabag was “for posh girls”. That’s not true. Sure, it’s about a posh girl, but lines like “either everyone is feeling like this a little bit and they’re just not saying, or I’m all alone” are disarming enough to make anyone reflect.
It’s not just brilliantly profound, though. Waller-Bridge is physically hilarious. The series made use of the fourth wall as a unique passage into Fleabag’s mind, but on stage, she has to couple that stream of consciousness with the world she’s creating. Whether it’s creating the ‘rodent’ face of the bloke the met on the Tube, or the arduous task of taking nudes at work for her ex, she has her audience eating out of the palm of her hand.
Vicky Jones’ subtle direction has the feel of an open counselling session, as Fleabag sits on a high stool delving into her own psyche. Elliott Griggs’ lighting is just as subtle, but the slight changes are enough to transport you into the character’s world.
It’s not a “show for posh girls”. It’s a play about modern life, and its depressions and complexities and things you’d never dream of saying out loud. We may not have all had a friend (or guinea pig) die as Fleabag has, but we have all felt that confused and wrong and lonely. Part of the beauty of the play is that she doesn’t offer up and answers, but gives you something to mull over, and fill in the gaps with your own life. Imagining the stories your Fleabag would be telling, if you had the balls to let it out.
Photo credit: Matt Humphrey