Fleabag on the Screen
By Ella Porteous
Image courtesy of ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk
After a huge success in 2013 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag hit London’s West End in 2016. Following months of sold-out shows, the stage performance became the basis for a television adaptation on the BBC. In September 2019, Waller-Bridge made her return to the stage, now as a three-time Emmy award winner. Although darker and more sombre, the stage performance is still filled with the same satire and shocking humour that made the television adaption adored across the globe.
Fleabag tells the filthily funny story of a young woman and her attempt to find her place in a world where she believes that the one thing that gives her worth is her desirability. The one-woman play follows the protagonist (whose real name remains the rather anonymous ‘fleabag’) through a week in her life, after the tragic deaths of her mother and her best friend, as well as the bankruptcy of her guinea pig cafe, and break up with her long-term boyfriend.
It is not just the hilarious and moving writing that makes Fleabag so wonderful, Waller-Bridge’s performance is outstanding. Waller-Bridge could force the audience into uncontrollable laughter with her facial expressions. Whether this is to demonstrate her attempt to gymnastically take a picture of her vagina or to impersonate a boyfriend with a minute mouth in a charade-like style that leaves the audience in fits of laughter. Yet, could show the pain and suffering that is hidden behind the witty one-liners and impersonations that the character, Fleabag, is hiding behind. Waller-Bridge’s ability to abruptly, and quite ruthlessly, change the entire tone and atmosphere is brilliant. It showcases how Fleabag’s confident and facetious façade slips away, as we witness her vulnerability.
Waller-Bridge spends the hour sat on a single chair under a spotlight, yet as the shows end, the audience truly feels as though they have followed Fleabag through her daily life; laughed with her at the guinea pig cafe, shared her awkward encounters on the tube, and mourned her best friend Boo.
Although having previously been criticised for being over-sexed and narcissistic, Waller-Bridge’s discussions and comments on sexuality are so frank and refreshing, exploring the ups and downs of one-night stands, as well as providing an interesting perspective on modern-day feminism.
Fleabag (Encore) is continuing to be shown by National Theatre Live in cinemas throughout October, and tickets can be found on the NT Live website.
Image courtesy of thestage.co.uk