Edinburgh Fringe 2017
“Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s play that inspired the hit BBC show is back. ‘Today I am going to be a new person. No more slutty pizzas. No more porny wanks. Lots more lovely threesomes. Go!’ The Fleabag bites back. A rip-roaring account of some sort of a female living her sort of life.”
Edinburgh Fringe aficionados are no doubt familiar with the story. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman show about a sex-obsessed woman nicknamed Fleabag found success at the 2013 festival then went on to become a hit BBC show. For artists, this tale, along with the stories of companies like 1927, has become Fringe lore – many undoubtedly hoping that perhaps this level of success might result from their Fringe show, too.
Fleabag is back, but no longer played by Waller-Bridge. Maddie Rice is no stranger to the character, having first played her at venues across the UK in 2015, but with the success of the popular TV adaptation of the play there are now many more people who have seen Waller-Bridge in the role so comparisons are unavoidable, as is evident from overheard conversations in the audience. Rice holds her own, bringing a similarly posh irreverence to the character but with her cherubic looks somehow making her filthy mouth even more shocking.
Despite a familiarity with the play script and television version, Fleabag still manages to elicit gasps with her extreme candour about her sex life. Sitting alone on a bar stool in the middle of the stage in the larger-than-usual Fringe venue Udderbelly George Square with only the occasional recording to interact with, Rice inhabits the story of a lonely woman whose best friend has died (in tragic but unusual circumstances), boyfriend has moved out (not for the first time, but this time he’s cleared the fridge so it could be serious) and business is failing (a guinea-pig themed café – only in London). Fleabag’s sense of self is completely tied up with her sexual attractiveness and promiscuity, something which we learn has had serious consequences for her friendships. Like many young women, Fleabag is confused about her relationship to feminism – does watching porn and caring about her appearance make her less of a feminist?
Witty, incisive writing and clever one liners create plenty of laugh out loud moments, but at heart this is a story of loss, of a young woman desperately trying to find her identity, and ultimately, of hope and redemption. Its crude, raucous, sexually explicit dialogue will mean it’s certainly not for everyone. More conservative potential viewers may be wise to choose something else to spend their ticket money on. But for those who can handle it (and who have been lucky enough to get a ticket to the short sold out run), the show will make you laugh but also cry.
At its best, this is a story of an intelligent, articulate, modern woman whose determination to be liberated has left her feeling that her sexual appeal is the sum total of her worth as a person, whose exposure to pornography has dulled her to real intimacy, and whose bravado is hiding a whole lot of pain.