You may know this one from the BBC Three TV series that was produced in 2016, but in actual fact Fleabag’s story began with a one-woman play from the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which subsequently transferred to Soho Theatre. Phoebe Waller-Bridge won the Fringe First Award for the show in 2013, as well as The Stage Best Solo Performer, Offies for Most Promising New Playwright & Best Female Performance, and the Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright; it was also nominated for an Olivier Award in 2014. Since then it has had an Edinburgh Festival Fringe revival and toured with Maddie Rice in the role.
And despite all that, I still only managed to see the TV series rather than the stage show!
“A rip-roaring account of some sort of a female living her sort of life.”
Thankfully, Nick Hern Books have published the playtext, so I thought it was about time I made the most of that for this series of posts. Though, given how well Maddie Rice’s performance went down, I’m sure there’s plenty of scope for this play being revived time and time again in the future.
Much of it will sound familiar to fans of the TV show, as the arc of the play is the same as the arc of the series – though obviously the story was developed and embellished significantly for TV, as the play is only an hour long – though it does perhaps have a slightly darker edge to it. We begin at the end, with Fleabag at a job interview; the guinea pig-themed café she ran with her best friend, Boo, has been in dire straits for a while since Boo’s tragic death in a road accident. To top things all off, her boyfriend has just left her – apparently this happens periodically, before they get back together again, but things don’t feel quite the same this time…
Fleabag also has a fractious relationship with what remains of her family. She and her sister are polar opposites, and following their mum’s death their dad has taken to paying for the sisters to go to feminist lectures rather than spend time all together. It’s a perfect storm of family, personal and professional issues.
I have to say that it reads incredibly well. Instantly, Waller-Bridge’s voice is in your head and Fleabag has well & truly come to life! Whether you can relate to any of the specific traits that Fleabag exhibits, it’s very likely that you’ll identify with some of the struggles & dilemmas she faces – and the freedom with which she speaks about these things is so incredibly refreshing. Yes, women swear – we swear a lot. Shock, horror!
Even without seeing it being performed it packs quite a punch; the jokes (the play overflows with dark humour) are hysterically funny, but on the other side of that there is a lot of well vented anger. This is a woman who is on a grief-induced self-destructive spiral, shedding herself of the people who are closest to her and unsure of how she should behave – she’s been doing well to ignore the dreadful truth, but it’s all a matter of time before things catch up with her. Fleabag is a very polished piece of writing and an excellent read.