Phoebe Waller-Bridges’s Fleabag, from DryWrite Theatre Company at the Soho Theatre, is a confessional stream of consciousness which combines humour and pathos to elicit a powerful effect.
Fleabag tells her story in a way that is both highly entertaining and deeply thought-provoking. Despite the potentially sordid nature of her revelations, the intimacy and blunt honesty engages the audience, both male and female, drawing our reviewers and at least outwardly the majority of audience into identifying with the character and remarkably even being supportive of or at least understanding of her sometimes bizarre and certainly desperate actions. ‘Raise your hand if you would trade 5 years of your life for the so-called ‘perfect body.’ Fleabag and her sister would, but are alone in their opinion in a room of 400 women, in a moment which grabs the audience’s sympathy. She follows through on her intense yearnings with assorted characters including an elderly cockney customer at her café and a stranger met on a train. The power in her performance is apparent in the fact that we feel we understand her desperation. We don’t immediately assume she needs psychiatric care or that the elderly chap she shocks to is heading off to report her to the police. Something in her painful honesty convinces us that she will have touched them similarly. There is nothing comfortable about this piece, and yet the laughter comes from a place of genuine empathy, as does our compassion during the more poignant moments.
This is a one-woman show, which is stripped back to the bare essentials, thus allowing the smallest of movements, gestures and facial expressions to assume significance. Phoebe’s performance was matter of fact, yet moving, and her timing was excellent. She also interacted very naturally with recorded sound. The narrative flowed seamlessly from hilarious beginning to an almost tragic ending. She seemed to be hitting at aspects of the human condition that are normally hidden by social taboos, and the bravery of the performance appeared to be answered by the audience’s response. Waller-Bridges wrote and performed this; maybe that’s why she presents it with exactly the right level of blunt honesty.
Despite the previously mentioned use of recorded voices, Phoebe does voice many of the other characters in the story herself, including her sister, her father and her Australian boss, demonstrating the breadth of her acting range. The play has a multi-media aspect, utilising mobile phones in different and imaginative ways! Sound effects also add to the overall experience.
One small drawback to the evening’s entertainment was the seating at the venue. Sitting at the end of the third row, the visibility was very poor, and constantly moving about on one’s seat and moving one’s head and shoulders about can detract from the enjoyment of a performance. That said, however, this is a very good show, to be highly recommended. If you are looking for an evening of smutty talk, laughter and life affirmation, plus a hearty dose of honesty, this fits the bill.
Fleabag has now finished its run at the Soho Theatre. For more information, visit www.drywrite.com.
Mary Tynan and Ian Macnaughton