Fleabag is a play initially adapted from a short, story driven, delightfully filthy stand-up set. Written and originally performed by Phoebe Waller Bridge, it was the recipient of the Fringe First Award at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and it’s easy to see why. A play almost entirely performed as a single, uninterrupted monologue, Fleabag manages to be simultaneously tragic, heartfelt, insightful and, above all, extremely funny.
Fleabag is the seemingly disjointed story of a sex-obsessed young woman making attempts to get her life on track amidst the struggles of the loss of her best friend, attempts to keep her failing business afloat and maintaining her testing relationship with her dysfunctional family. Moving from a breakup with her boyfriend (a somewhat frequent occurrence), the unnamed protagonist stumbles from one sexual encounter to another, regaling the audience with hilariously dirty accounts of her life. The story is tinged with misery though as it becomes increasingly clear how much of a mess she really is, culminating in a truly heartrending ending.
Helena Jacques-Morton was fantastic in the titular role, handling the various tonal shifts of the piece with confident ease and unerringly excellent comic rhythm. Also to be commended is how quickly she learned the source material, never noticeably messing up a line or so much as missing a beat with her delivery. While the play took a few minutes, I felt, to truly hit its stride, once she got her momentum up, it became a stream of uninterrupted success. She managed to lend her own voice to the role while at no point diluting the character. Fleabag is a play which flips regularly between the profane, the hilarious and the tragic without warning. Jacques-Morton is to be commended for keeping up with these changes comfortably, her performance never faltering. Many of these shifts were also accompanied by perfectly timed lighting changes to drive the point home.
The set, elegant in its simplicity, comprised of a pink and black, multilayered stage with a backdrop of magazine cutouts, mainly consisting of pictures of naked men. It was a striking sight, setting the mood of the show almost immediately, as did the intro music, Fuck the Pain Away by Peaches. The multiple layers also facilitated some excellent movement, which allowed scenes which would otherwise have been slightly confusing have perfect clarity. With a play that darts around as much as Fleabag (it being something of a stream-of-consciousness piece), it’s an understated and highly effective boon for the protagonist to be able to move to different layers of the stage during flashbacks.
All in all the show was a complete success, it feels hard to imagine that anyone could live up to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s character given the extent to which the actress became her character but Jacques-Morton was truly excellent. The show was technically slick, superbly directed and, in my opinion, one of the best written black comedies of recent years. A superb adaptation.
Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge was presented by @SonderTheatreUK in collaboration with the University of St Andrews Feminist Society at the Barron Theatre on Sunday 2 October. The production was directed by Joanna Bowman, produced by Laura Antone, and starred Helena Jacques-Morton in the title role. Lighting was by Alice McDougall.