Provocative and Razor Sharp Fleabag Punches Way Above it’s Apparent Means

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

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Mirror in the Bathroom

Keir Charles and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Mydidae, Soho Theatre, 5 December 2012 (courtesy of Simon Annand) 14Mydidae was written as the result of a dare:  Writer Jack Thorne was challenged by DryWrite Theatre Company to write a play about a man and a woman set in their shared domestic bathroom.  The artistic directors wished to explore themes of privacy and intimacy, and the bathroom is an ideal device, bringing to mind somewhat Willy Russell’s use of ladies’ and gents’ toilets in Stags and Hens.

The play feels rather like a painting, in that a lot of the detail needs to be inferred by the audience.  Marian and David have obviously been living together long enough to have had a child, but still seem to know relatively little about each other on a deeper level.  The couple talk incessantly, but never, it appears, about what they really care about.  What seems like light-hearted banter to begin with quickly reveals underlying tensions.  These build to a climactic head during the shared bath, which is where the intimacy theme is explored, but in an inconclusive manner.  The ending raises more questions than it answers, and overall we are left with far more insight into David’s feelings than Marian’s, even though, ironically, it is she who does most of the talking.

Both Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Marian) and Keir Charles (David) were believably quirky and portrayed the complicated relationship very well.  Phoebe allowed the subtext to come through in a genuine way below the banter, and Kier played David’s sometimes inarticulate frustration in a credible manner.  He also used physical humour to good effect in the earlier part of the play.

The set was simple but effective and fitted well in the space.  The bath creates a natural division for the characters to play around, and the use of the part of the fourth wall as a bathroom mirror was very convincing.  Director Vicky Jones played the comedy card to good use in the early scenes, as well as building tension nicely, although some of the pauses could have been cut slightly while still retaining the aura of uneasiness.  The lighting was simple but impressive.

On the whole, the experiment definitely paid off, although one feels that there is a lot more to be told of David and Marian’s story.  Audiences prepared to use their imagination will be rewarded for the shared effort.

Photograph courtesy of Simon Annand.  Mydidae is at Trafalgar Studios until 30 March at 7.45pm nightly, with 3pm matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays.  For more information visit www.atgtickets.com or www.drywrite.com.

Mary Tynan and Emma-Lee Adams