There’s something enigmatic about a single red chair, centre stage, bathed in spotlight… part stand up (or sit down, as the case may be), part sketch show, part one-woman show, Fleabag is arguably the play of a generation from multi-award-winning creative Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I’m a massive fan of Fleabag the Olivier nominated BBC TV series adaptation, and of Series 1 of Killing Eve – both written by Waller-Bridge. With Fleabag the original play, you quickly understand why everything this creative touches, is sparkly, shiny gold.
The easiest 5 stars I’ve ever given.
I take my seat in the Wyndham’s Theatre, whose seats are so uncomfortable for my average sized knees (the lanky, leggy Waller-Bridge would no doubt have struggled). The play opens with the eponymous Fleabag, played by Waller-Bridge, running late to an interview at the bank. She sits down on her single red chair, sweaty. What follows is an hour-short thrilling journey through the explosive, comically-lewd, nonsensical mind of someone so many of us can relate.
“I had a slutty pizza last night. Honestly, she was dripping.”
There’s an empathy, a humour that’s just so, so real throughout; the jokes are sensational and laugh out loud. RADA-trained Waller-Bridge’s acting skills are excellent, there’s a nuance to the way she delivers what would ordinarily be offensive jokes or at the least statements so inappropriate as to make you feel super uncomfortable. The ‘fat’ jokes, the anal sex and masturbation jokes that some might recognise from the TV show. The honest way she talks about feminism (and everything else) is refreshing. I wish I had written it, directed it and designed it myself. You can feel Waller-Bridge’s tone of voice in all elements of the performance, you can sense the tight collaboration with the director Vicky Jones, in the movement and timing. With Holly Pigott in the design. With Isobel Waller-Bridge in the sound. She, alongside Elliot Riggs and his lighting, does so much with their craft, staying sympathetic to the intimacy needed yet crafting a narrative and cadence to match the flow of the story. It’s gorgeous and rich, punctuating those lesser-spoken truths throughout.
The jokes are sensational and laugh out loud.
But this is Afridiziak, and it may seem odd that I’m reviewing a creation from someone like Waller-Bridge. Fleabag is an educated, white, straight-ish woman. I’m a black, educated, gay black woman. But the way it’s written transcends class and race. Interestingly, I don’t think it transcends London, which is my one criticism. Is this the voice of a generation? Of a directionless cohort of 20-40 somethings, their lives are punctuated by genuine tragedy, first world problems and rich families in equal measure? The over educated, looking for meaning? Maybe – it’s certainly comes across as an autobiographical comment on this subsection of society. So, although I’m not sure how much this would appeal to a brown woman from Manchester, it spoke to me.
It makes sense now how the TV show was so good, in all its breaking-the-third-wall glory. It’s original as a TV show and delightful as a theatre production. Fleabag the play flies the flag high for one-woman shows, setting a great example. Loved it, loved it, full on loved it. The easiest 5 stars I’ve ever given.