‘YES! Fleabag back on the stage, gotta get tickets!’ Posts like this filled my social media feeds earlier this year. Wonderful! I thought, now I can see Fleabag in its original form before I binge two seasons.
Yes, I’m one of the few people who hasn’t seen the TV show yet. I can hear the words of my friends ringing in my ears, “OMG babe how have you not watched Fleabag yet? You’d love it!” It’s always been on my to-watch list but I just never got round to it for some reason, odd because I really enjoyed Killing Eve and Crashing.
So I sat in my seat at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre awaiting something that was clearly going to be good…. and honestly it was more than that, it was astonishing.
You’re staring at a simple chair on a raised platform with ukulele music playing in the background and flickering light above. That’s it. Simple, bold and one of the best choices anyone could have made for this piece, allowing you to focus you on the performer and the performance. The show is a genuine tour-de-force from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a name now synonymous with witty, fast-paced writing and confident, bold, brilliantly complex female characters and here she is on stage. Just her, a chair and Fleabag’s story.
Waller-Bridge delicately, but unabashedly leads you through the grieving process of a damaged lonely woman with serious daddy issues desperate for love, attention and approval. Her boyfriend has left her, again, but seemingly this time for good. Her best friend has accidentally died after finding out her boyfriend cheated on her. The guinea pig café she runs is failing and about to shutter its doors for good. Oh and the pet that the café themed itself upon is the only thing left in Fleabag’s life, along with regular tea drinker, the elderly Joe who pops in at 11 every morning.
A solo show like this that so deftly draws you in, makes you laugh like a drain, gasp in concern and also cry is no easy feat. Waller-Bridge is a talented actor managing to simply and effectively create rich characters with a pursed lip, a slight physical shift, a well placed emphasis on a syllable. Obviously deftly guided by director Vicky Jones no wonder they keep working together when this is the result.
It’s a tricky line to walk between brazenly sex-positive and emotionally-damaged, but Fleabag successfully manages that in a way I’ve rarely seen. The description of sexting was both brilliantly funny and depressingly sad and the play’s ending was gut-wrenching leaving me pretty done in, but still wishing there was a second act. Luckily there is a second TV season of course, so I’ll find out pretty soon what is around the corner for this fascinating character.
I’ve seen my fair share of effective solo stage performances over the years, but this rates as a truly exceptional one. Waller-Bridge has already said this West End run is the final outing for Fleabag on stage as she feels she’s getting too old to convincingly play the character. Luckily it’ll be preserved by NT Live and beamed to cinema screens around the UK live and the recorded version shown around the world. There’s no denying the quality of her clearly brilliant writing and within a few short years Fleabag has spawned international success for Waller-Bridge and awards galore. I just hope that working on James Bond and a new HBO show doesn’t mean we won’t see another magical stage production from like this one.
By Ralph Bogard
Following a sold-out run in New York, Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s award-winning comedic play, directed by Vicky Jones, plays London’s Wyndham’s Theatre for 30 performances only. Head to the official website for more information. A total of 50 tickets for each performances will be available for £15 via Todaytix. NT Live will broadcast Fleabag live to cinemas from London’s West End on the Thursday 12 September. The NT Live recording will then be available in cinemas internationally.