Phoebe Waller-Bridge is going from strength to strength. Streamed live across cinemas in the UK, her one-woman show Fleabag gives its swansong as a limited sell out run at Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End. Originally created as an Edinburgh fringe performance from a successful 10 minute stand-up storytelling routine, Fleabag was a huge hit at the arts festival. Fringe success led to the creation of the BBC series starring Waller-Bridge alongside Sian Clifford and Olivia Colman which received critical acclaim, thus being renewed for a second series. After eleven Primetime Emmy Award nominations, it was announced that the show’s creator would reprise the original show and role in London’s West End, with a performance broadcast by National Theatre Live.
A minimalistic set of a single stool sat upon a barely raised stage divulges nothing about the performance that is to come; only that attention will not be lost. Waller-Bridge steps onto the stage as Fleabag, dressed in black jeans and a knitted red jumper to raucous applause and sits down to begin her performance. The show is nothing short of genius; from the moment Waller-Bridge begins her monologue to the humble bows an hour or so later, the star captivates and holds her audience with ease.
Beginning the piece with a scene familiar to fans of the TV show, Fleabag is at a job interview (the voice of the interviewer played through speakers in the theatre) which doesn’t go as expected. An accidental flash to the man interviewing her, who just had indicated there had been some wrong-doings regarding sexual assault at that workplace, doesn’t get Fleabag off on the right foot. Following this scene, a monologue ensues to bring the audience up to speed with the character’s life and those in it. Anecdotes riddled with dark humour and adult content soon emerge from our protagonist, with punch lines clearly indicating how this show was born. The story covers the first episode of the TV show, with some subjects that set the first series being concluded in the performance.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ability to create scenes and characters on an empty stage is profound. Fleabag’s narrative techniques of impersonating and embodying characters but flitting back to herself for a quick-witted comment allows the show to be continually enthralling.
Not only does the play have hilarious adult humour surrounding the “over-sexed” lead, but it is supported by melancholy surrounding the loneliness of Fleabag and the guilt she feels. Switching between the emotions of the show is done swiftly and unapologetically, leaving a strong feeling of empathy for the character.
Smashing the difficult task of holding attention through storytelling for over an hour with no extra props, supporting cast or set, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and director Vicky Jones have created a masterpiece of theatre. With an abundance of comedy, hard hitting sorrow and an unexpected finale unseen in the TV series, Fleabag has some repeat screenings scheduled that are not to be missed.