Last Monday at 8pm at Brighton’s The Old Market, I sat myself down in my theatre seat eagerly awaiting the start of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s celebrated Bafta-winning Fleabag. Having been an avid fan of the 2016 BBC Series, I was intrigued to see the stripped back, original stage version and to view it in the true form it had been created for.
Throughout the play, little else graced the stage other than a singular chair and the mesmerising Maddie Rice sat upon it as the twenty-something ‘Fleabag’, a young woman charting her way through London’s ruthless dynamics. Immediately, Rice has an undeniably captivating onstage presence as she begins to chat away to the audience like an old friend, remaining frankly open and honest about her sex life, friendships, the struggle with her familial relationships and even the deteriorating Guinea Pig café that she runs.
“I’m not obsessed with sex – I just think about it all the time” Rice claims in her brilliantly matter-of-fact way. As the play unravels, I find it unbelievably refreshing to watch. These are struggles that many women can relate to, and the constant underlying pressure to sustain an image of ‘togetherness’ is one which women are often faced with day to day. Whether in the workplace, the bedroom or at family gatherings, Waller-Bridge’s sharp script highlights how laughable this pressure is.
Rice’s excellent comic timing enhances this perfectly, echoing Waller-Bridge’s portrayal of the character in the TV Series whilst also bringing a different complexity to ‘Fleabag’ aswell. She narrates recent events of her life such as job interviews, days at work, and conversations with regulars from the café, which from the outside sound simple; but as an audience we are wrapped inside her world from the moment she enters the stage. As she discusses the people and misadventures in her life, I can’t help but picture these sequences playing out in my head – a freedom of imagination in theatre that I hadn’t yet experienced. This just proved to me that a huge cast, or a ton of money pumped into set, lighting or any technical elements never necessarily equates to a good production. Sometimes in theatre, it’s the simplicity and frankness that makes it all the more relatable.
Fleabag is a brilliant example of this – a refreshingly honest depiction of real life and most importantly, flawed characters. So often in plays, books and films there is a squeaky-clean heroine who shines out as a moral voice of reason. Fleabag completely subverts this, and the dark elements of the play are effectively entwined with its hilariously sharp script. There is no heroine, simply a multi-faceted and flawed young woman, who perhaps uses this shield of comedy to hide the fact that she is struggling immensely. I left the theatre inspired from witnessing a fantastic example of a new wave of plays that seems to be becoming more successful through their overwhelmingly frank reflections of everyday life.
Catch Series 2 of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag on BBC and Amazon in 2019.
Featured image credit: Jonny Birch