Now available online
When DryWrite co-Artistic Director Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote Fleabag back in 2013, it needed to be crowdfunded in order for it to be premiered at that year’s Edinburgh Festival. It is now repaying the favour by being used to raise needed funds for charities dedicated to supporting those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Viewers are asked to donate between £4 and £250 to rent the filmed version of the show and it will, no doubt, attract many to do so having been disappointed in getting hold of tickets when it was revived onstage in London last year for just 30 performances.
Being one of those very people, I approached the streamed version with a high degree of anticipation. While somewhat of a fan of the first TV series (not so much the second) I can’t say I ever viewed Fleabag with quite the same fervour as so many others. Yes, it was filthily funny, yes it was fresh, but I did tend to find its arch knowingness a little grating.
I was therefore gratified that I actually found the stage version more to my liking. Gone was the tedious need for others to interpret Waller-Bridge’s characters and razor-sharp dialogue as this extended monologue allowed for the actor/writer to do everything herself. In essence, I found I had the same reaction as to when I saw Pauline Collins in both the theatre and cinema versions of Shirley Valentine. In both instances, the one-woman play was/is far superior.
The storyline will be familiar to anyone who saw the series and includes many of the famous moments including taking her top off at the job interview, the on-off relationship with her semi-permanent boyfriend, attending the feminist lecture with her sister and the late night visits to her father. Largely absent, however, is the relationship with her godmother and there are definitely no sexy priests.
Never one to hold back on an opinion, Fleabag herself seemed rather more casually cruel than in the TV version which perhaps gave her a harsher, less sympathetic demeanour … though I’ve never been sure whether we are actually supposed to sympathise with a woman who so clearly demonstrates such a level of disgust towards her fellow humans. And, yes, I know, that’s all supposed to mask a sense of self-loathing with which we can empathise, but she is equally responsible for the misery of others.