EFR - Reviews of Fleabag

Fleabag

Thu 1st – Sun 25th August 2013

reviews

Natasha Hyman

at 10:08 on 11th Aug 2013

3agrees

0disagrees

‘Fleabag’ is one of those rare shows; you just can’t take your eyes off the stage. The upstairs of the Underbelly is the perfect setting for Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman show: the arch of the roof gracefully encases her, the single chair creates a criss-cross of shadows on the floor. Waller-Bridge has a commanding, yet lyrical quality to her voice; she talks quickly, yet never once leaves the audience behind - she is spellbinding.

Waller-Bridge wrote her material from conversations with friends, and the resulting script is absolutely fascinating; razor sharp, a melody of one woman’s experience in the context of modern issues. She is saturated, especially sexually, and her self-destructive selfishness has jeopardised her relationships with her family, her boyfriend, her best friend and her employer. She is an extreme case, yet instantly recognisable; this, in itself, is terrifying.

Her words are darkly, darkly funny and heartbreaking in the same intake of breath. She cuts between situations and stories effortlessly, and we are always present as her confidante. These fluid transitions are aided by subtle, yet highly effective use of sound effects and lighting.

I feel extremely lucky to be witness to Waller-Bridge’s extraordinary talent. Deftly, she evokes our imaginations without even seeming to break a sweat. To everyone’s recognition, she drawls during her description of a drunken girl on the tube, even impersonating a music-appreciative guinea pig with uncanny accuracy.

Most crucially, Waller-Bridge is unafraid to talk about the real issues facing us today. She is intensely truthful, telling us of threesomes on her period, obsessively watching porn, of questioning her feminist agenda, and of letting people down. Although she paints a bleak picture, the show’s overwhelmingly positive message is that these themes, which are so little talked about, are being given a forum.

The clever framing device of a job interview is used in the performance. When Waller-Bridge finally breaks down, confessing to her interviewer that ‘I’ve fucked everything’, after a pause, the recorded voice of the employer booms back ‘that’s not appropriate’. As she stares forlornly back at us, we are fiercely on Waller-Bridge’s side: we want her story told. And told loudly.

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Imogen O'Sullivan

at 10:23 on 11th Aug 2013

2agrees

1disagrees

The script of 'Fleabag' is a work of art – delicately balanced between dark and light, moments of real insight are laid beneath moments of real wit. The bare stage perfectly suits the confessional nature of the show, with subtle lighting changes serving to enhance Waller-Bridge’s switch from scene to scene, the variation holding the attention of the entire audience in the palm of her hand.

She effortlessly flits between characters in her one woman narrative, breathing life into Joe, the cockney tea-drinker, and Martin, her sexually inappropriate but socially ‘fun’ brother-in-law. She can also shrivel and contort her face like elastic, each time exerting a well-deserved burst of laughter from the audience. Her sexual frankness never strays into the gratuitous. Delivered straight-faced and seemingly off-the-cuff, her discussion of porn and wanking is refreshingly honest, because these things are still so rarely discussed with women as active participants.

Waller-Bridge’s character speaks about the difficulties of being ‘a modern woman’ - such as being branded a ‘bad feminist’ because she would exchange five years of her life for the ‘perfect’ body - with an affected, blasé shallowness. Despite the comedy provoked by this apparent lack of compassion, the facade begins to crack and reveal the tragedy of her character. But it seems reductive, and unnecessary, for me to attempt to psychoanalyse self-hatred, or self-destruction, or just selfishness. Waller-Bridge has created a piece about a real woman – detailed, complex, layered: her persona constantly surprises and entertains –and you simultaneously feel pity, and judgement, and affection for her creation.

Ultimately the piece is tragic. The song she and her friend make up about feeling ‘so happy to be a modern woman’ is undercut with vicious irony: the flickers of hope and relief she feels when she meets a man not disgusted by pubic hair, but still not being able to bring herself to grow hers, is terrifically sad. ‘Fleabag’ paints a bleak vision of a woman who has ‘been watching other people fuck since I was old enough to search for it’. Her list of search terms and categories of pornography, delivered with a blank-faced boredom shows a desensitisation that is frankly terrifying to watch. When she asks her father if he’d click on her picture if he saw her online, I am drawn into her world of resigned sexualisation mingled with disgust and disappointment.

‘Fleabag’ closes with an expression of a universal fear: that either her confusion and destruction and hollow, pervading loneliness is a feeling unique to her, or that everyone feels it and nobody talks about it. She delivers the whole piece so well that the audience audibly gasp at one point, utterly immersed in her world. Sadly, that world is not a very happy place to be in.

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