Touring – reviewed at Curve Leicester
When the sitcom of the same name premiered on BBC Three in 2016, it seemed like Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Fleabag were an overnight sensation. But it started out as a one-woman show in 2013, written and performed by Waller-Bridge and directed by Vicky Jones (writer of The One). Since then, the show has quite rightly become a bit of a Fringe – and then mainstream – phenomenon. Now, Soho Theatre and DryWrite (the latter of which is run by Waller-Bridge and Jones) are taking Fleabag on the road again, handing down the performing reins to Maddie Rice.
For 60 minutes, Rice brings Fleabag – a sex-driven, angry, grieving mid-twenties woman in the fast lane of London – storming to life. Whilst simply sat on a stool, Rice takes us to an uber-chic but struggling guinea pig café, tube carriages and feminist lectures, contorting herself into her family and friends and openly letting us in on her secrets – everything apart from what happened to her best friend.
Rice is as perfect as Waller-Bridge in the TV series, utterly owning this fucked-up character. We become privy to a lot of Fleabag’s anecdotes (from the proud to the embarrassing) about sex stories and the tribulations of modern dating. They take the humour of similar stories perhaps heard in stand-up routines and testosterone-fuelled comedies to another level. But rather than being crude for the sake of it, they allow us to see the depths of Fleabag’s life and for us to ultimately empathise with how she lives, thrives, and crashes and burns.
Different from the sitcom, Waller-Bridge’s play shows us even more of Fleabag’s destructive side. Her instinct to destroy is wincingly evoked through Isobel Waller-Bridge’s sound design. And in the end, Waller-Bridge and Rice turn the question to us: is Fleabag alone in being one messed up person living in the thrill of the big city, or are we all just as messed up and simply struggling to articulate it? This is why Fleabag has become a sensation. That, and the fact that Rice does a brilliant impression of a guinea pig reacting to music!