The Theatreguide.London Review
Wyndham's Theatre Autumn 2019
The monologue that begat the TV series that begat the second series that begat a whole new career and deserved stardom for writer-performer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag has been revived for a limited run.
And despite reports that it
is completely sold out, I urge you to find your way to a ticket.
heartbreaking and uninterruptedly hilarious portrait of a young woman
drowning in irresponsible self-indulgence, Fleabag won every award going
at its Edinburgh Fringe debut in 2013 and subsequent transfers to London,
New York, Australia and everywhere else.
Both as writer and actor, and
with the invaluable guidance of director Vicky Jones, Waller-Bridge brings
her slightly grotesque but wholly believable character to life while just
sitting on a stool on a bare stage.
Fleabag (evidently her wryly
self-appointed nickname) is a twenty-something woman of solidly
middle-class background who is at best floating aimlessly through life and
at worst destroying herself. She is pathetic and occasionally repellent
and irresistibly loveable and very very funny.
When I first saw the
monologue in 2013 – see my original review below – it seemed to be about
someone coming out of the extended adolescence of university and resisting
adulthood with all her might, with some hopeful hints near the end that
she was finally ready to begin the process of growing up.
The thrust of the story seems
to have changed, and I don't know if playwright Waller-Bridge has
rewritten it, actor Waller-Bridge is playing it differently, or I am just
hearing it with six-years-older ears.
This time around Fleabag seems less resistant to responsibility than unequipped for it. She is clearly grieving more than she realises for a dead friend, faces the collapse of the small business she's been playing at, and is painfully alienated from the sister and father she disdains but desperately wants to reconnect with.
And her compulsive
promiscuity, alcoholism and general irresponsibility are not hedonistic
choices but the only coping mechanisms in her very limited repertoire.
Have I mentioned that she is
very funny? The just-over-an-hour monologue is not just sprinkled with
comic one-liners – 'I'm not obsessed with sex. I just can't stop thinking
about it' – and comic set pieces – imitating a big-busted woman struggling
with a refrigerator door, or a pet guinea pig listening to music. It is
made up entirely of them.
There is hardly a single
straight line in the monologue, and yet out of all the laughs comes the
sympathetic and deeply moving portrait of a woman in pain.
Or perhaps I will make it
sound more attractive by saying it is the portrait of a woman in pain that
is hilarious from start to finish. In either case, run. Do not walk.
Here's what I wrote about Fleabag in 2013:
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