Fleabag – By Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Performed By Maddie Rice

By Elyce Phillips 

One-woman play Fleabag tells the story of a 20-something owner of a guinea-pig-themed cafe. She’s lost her best friend, her mother, her boyfriend and is filling the void with sex. It’s a bleakly funny, chaotic tale that gets darker as it goes.

Following the success of its initial Edinburgh Fringe run in 2013, Fleabag was picked up by the BBC and developed into a six-part series, airing earlier this year on ABC. On the back of this success, Pheobe Waller-Bridge has brought the original play back, touring with Maddie Rice in the title role.

It’s clear why Fleabag has received the acclaim it has – Waller-Bridge’s script is taut and wittily-written. Rice is outstanding as Fleabag. Her characterisation is superb and she deftly switches from the title role to other characters in the story with ease. Rice is an engaging performer and truly draws you into the story. With minimal set design and the occasional bit of pre-recorded audio, Fleabag creates a well-rounded universe that you’re absolutely swept up in. Vicky Jones has done a fabulous job of directing.

As a Comedy Festival show, however, Fleabag left me wanting. While there were laughs to be had early in the show, the more we learn about Fleabag, the less humorous her exploits become. This isn’t to say that comedic characters must be likable, however, it’s difficult viewing to sit with a character for 50 minutes and see them become less redeemable as the show progresses. Fleabag is an extremely skillful show, but it is also incredibly dark. It treads a very fine line between black humour and drama, and the side that you sit on will very much depend on how early Fleabag’s behaviour gets you offside. Personally, I found Fleabag unsympathetic pretty early on – fat jokes really aren’t my bag – so by the time it came to later revelations about the character, I felt more for the characters around her than for Fleabag herself. Many in the audience were laughing the whole way through, though, suggesting that this show is just the right shade of dark for most.

Regardless of where you find yourself, however, Fleabag is an incredibly accomplished show. The writing is sharp and Rice is an absolute powerhouse of a performer. You’re guaranteed to walk out of this show having felt something.

Fleabag – By Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Performed By Maddie Rice is on at The Coopers Malthouse Beckett Theatre until April 22.