This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.
Fleabag runs an unsuccessful hamster-themed cafe and her best friend killed herself accidentally trying not to kill herself, in a tragic but quite funny way. She sleeps with inappropriate people such as a man she met on the tube with a mousey small mouth. And in the opening scene during an interview for a temp job, she accidentally flashes at a job interviewer who unfortunately has a sexual harassment claim against him. Awkward.
These are only a small proportion of unfortunate incidents that have befallen Fleabag, written and played as a one woman show by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The sheer volume and diversity of the despair and darkness that underscore these incidents is impressive, each perfectly balanced by an element of absurdity and knockout punch line. The writing is snappy and concise, full of funny snippets of well observed humour. Gems like a pizza is slutty because the bitch is dripping is the first that pops up and she does not shy away from graphic but beautifully chosen descriptions of various body parts and bodily functions.
The absurdity of the events and perhaps one unfortunate incident too many could mean the play feels too far away from reality, but the absolutely outstanding performance of Waller-Bridge convinces to the extent that it may have been an autobiographical account. Especially those fleeting moments of pauses when she looks embarrassed or self-conscious after one of those more regretful incidents. Under the direction of Vicky Jones, Waller-Bridge’s rhythm of the delivery, and the delivery itself, is flawless, mixing the slow and fast without being overly deliberate with it. In the hands of Waller-Bridge and executed with playful ease, the innocuous sounding impression of the small mouth man is surprisingly grotesque, and will linger in my mind for some time.
With a knockout combination of great writing and performance, it is unsurprising that Fleabag has already won a number of awards. On top of that, it is a piece of satire on the life of a young, cosmopolitan woman, dealing with multiple pulls of feminism, depression, economy, sexual desire and appearances. It has a serious underbelly with all the frills of a funny and well written play.
Photo: Richard Davenport