Shorn of its talented cast, swanky locations and BBC polish, Phoebe Waller Bridge’s Fleabag is undeniably altered, yet still a thing of beauty.
Without the big production values, the entire weight of the show falls on Waller Bridge. She’s more than capable of carrying it, though, giving a performance of nuance and distinction, as she oscillates between hysterical vignettes and emotion laden revelations.
I’m watching the Soho Theatre On Demand stream of the production. Recorded during the show’s final UK run at the Wyndham’s theatre, the show has been bolstered by the phenomenal success of the BBC3 version of the story.
The Wyndham crowd are in hysterics from the very first moment. Every joke, however slight, is greeted with rapturous laughter. It’s a little off putting, it must be said. It makes me realise that I am watching Phoebe Waller Bridge, Hollywood star, rather than Fleabag, the unnamed, sex obsessed cafe owner from London.
It’s not that Waller Bridge doesn’t deserve such support. Sitting on a chair in the middle of the stage, with not a prop in site, the actress commands the stage totally. Every word, gesture and facial expression feels like they have been carefully chosen, with the overall effect quite breathtaking.
Waller Bridge is full of delicious observations. “He’s very bony” she says of her lover at one point, “it’s like making love to a protractor”. Later on she finds herself ruminating about feminism. “Sometimes I worry, I wouldn’t be such a feminist if I had bigger tits” she says.
The play is a casual run through of the first television series of Fleabag, with Waller Bridge recreating several of the key scenes in the show.
We learn about her on again, off again relationship with boyfriend Harry; her awkward relationship with her annoyingly perfect sister, Claire; her traumatic relationship with her cold fish father; and her heart rending recollections of her best friend Boo.
It’s the last of these tales that really grabs us. Fleabag’s reminiscences about Boo provide the emotional centre of the production, and we genuinely feel the depth of the character’s despair when she is discussing her friend.
There is something about watching Waller Bridge onstage that puts you in mind of sitting with your nest friend in a pub. This is as much a tribute to Waller Bridge’s acting as it is to the conspiratorial nature of the script.
Phoebe Waller Bridge’s one woman version of Fleabag may have aged since it debuted in 2013, but the show still packs a considerable emotional and artistic punch. The fact that Waller Bridge is completely alone on the stage forces the actress to delve deep into her box of comic tricks, and the results are truly breathtaking.
The actress recently said that she would like to bring the character back when she is approaching 50. On this form, it would be a long, cruel wait.
More information about the show can be found here.
For information on other great theatre to stream in London, please click here.