fri 20/09/2019

Fleabag, Wyndham's Theatre review - superb swansong for modern classic | reviews, news & interviews

Fleabag, Wyndham's Theatre review - superb swansong for modern classic

Fleabag, Wyndham's Theatre review - superb swansong for modern classic

Final outing for Phoebe Waller-Bridge as her iconic creation

Phoebe Waller-Bridge commands the stage despite rarely leaving her stoolMatt Humphrey

We're saying goodbye to a much treasured friend. Fleabag will live on, of course – other actresses have and will inhabit the role – but Phoebe Waller-Bridge, its creator, has said this short run at Wyndham's Theatre is the last time she will perform the character on stage.

And so that knowledge makes this deliciously filthy and witty monologue – about a twentysomething woman who attracts trouble – even more enjoyable. It was first staged at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013 and Waller-Bridge later performed it at Soho Theatre in London and, more recently, SoHo Playhouse in New York, gaining a shedload of awards along the way.

It became a cult hit when she broadened out the story – not an easy task, but she pulled it off brilliantly – to make two series for the BBC. And now, the swansong. I have seen Waller-Bridge perform it four times now, and have always laughed like a drain at some lines – including the killer “Do I have a massive arsehole?” – and gulped at the sadness of others, while seeing something new in the piece each time.

Fleabag is drifting aimlessly through life, defines herself by her sexual partners and manages to alienate those who love her most. Not that she dwells on the negatives, as she glosses over them with eloquence, charm and scabrous wit.

But gradually, over the course of 65 minutes, we see a more complicated picture emerge. She has a sort of boyfriend in Harry, but behaves as if she were single because they have so many break-ups; but that's OK because each time he comes back he cleans their flat.

Sex – thinking about it, doing it, thinking about it and doing it some more – is the prism through which Fleabag sees life. But death, something that she knows rather a lot about for a woman of her age, looms large too. Her mother has died, as has her best friend and business partner, Boo.

But Fleabag's non-stop funny chat – much of the script could pass muster as stand-up – is a coping mechanism for her loss, her guilt over Boo, how much she misses her mother and how she feels locked out by her father's pain over his own bereavement and his too-quick move into her godmother's bed (the last fact which Fleabag voices rather more bluntly).

There are lots of insights into Fleabag's inner world, which she drops like pieces of paper along a trail; the feminist lectures she attends with her sister, sexting while in the disabled loo at work and her taste in porn; about guinea pigs, threesomes and a random guy she meets on the Tube – better known as “rodent face”. Waller-Bridge can move from one mood to another in the space of a sentence, from tender to cruel, from heartfelt to scornful, and she neatly draws a vocal picture of each character mentioned.

This is a brutally honest play about modern life and sexual attitudes, and Waller-Bridge captures all their complexities and messiness; Fleabag is the friend we might all wish for, saying things we may be thinking but would never say out loud.

In a superbly nuanced performance Waller-Bridge commands the stage, despite rarely moving off her stool, and, as ever, Vicky Jones directs with confidence and a sure feel for the text. Truly a modern classic.

  • Fleabag is at Wyndham's Theatre until 14 September; it will be broadcast to cinemas nationwide through NT Live on 12 September
Sex – thinking about it, doing it – is the prism through which Fleabag sees life

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature

★★★★★

A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway

 

Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.

 

★★★★★

This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman

 

Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.

 

Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.