In Drywrite/Soho Theatre’s award-winning black comedy, the audience are dragged through 48 chaotic hours in the world of one woman, Fleabag, as she tries to get her sort-of life back on track after the death of her best friend. Our girl is scabrous and hilarious, but underneath her nonchalance, Fleabag’s demons loom large.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing is a sparky, intelligent cocktail of bold characterisation, confidently constructed storytelling and unexpected emotional resonance. Brilliantly, Waller-Bridge avoids any lip-trembling moments of self-reflection for her girl and instead sticky-plasters Fleabag’s pain with bright, biting anecdotes and scathing punchlines that render her tragedy as less of a plotline than a much more unsettling fog at the corner of the audience’s eye.
Taking over from the original Fleabag, Waller-Bridge herself, Maddie Rice does a commendable job embodying the mass of contradictions that the character demands. Fleabag is a tangle of incongruity— horny, angry, needful, hilarious and painfully alone— but Rice’s warm, energetic performance makes her understandable and even endearing. Her delivery in the first few scenes feels a bit rushed and a few of the comedy moments could have been played more confidently for bigger laughs; but as the story progresses Rice seems to find her rhythm and the pitch of her audience. In the moments of physical comedy—most memorably, imitating a John Deacon-esque guinea-pig and the Drunkest Girl Ever Seen On The Waterloo Line— she shines.
Fleabag doesn’t hit you over the head with its feminism: this chatty, filthy confessional is closer to a raucous night out in the local than any kind of lecture. But the most startling and brilliant thing about Fleabag is seeing a genuinely complex and unapologetic female character given centre stage. In the last scene of the show, Fleabag rants: “Surely everybody feels a little bit like this and just isn’t saying anything” and it’s a mark of the award-winning quality of the writing that such an extreme character can be so easily related to.