Fleabag – Review – Junction Goole (Satellite Screening)
By Rachael Popow, September 2019
The second, and reportedly final, series of Fleabag came to a perfect ending. But if anyone is still finding it hard to say goodbye, the good news is that the critically adored comedy’s star and creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge has been performing the one-woman stage show that started it all at the Wyndham Theatre in the West End.
The rapturous response she got from the audience during the live screening, which was beamed to Junction Goole, suggests there are a lot of hardcore Fleabag fans who fall into that category.
If the whole phenomenon has passed you by, it’s a look at an apparently sex-obssessed, outspoken and emotionally unflitered woman. As the show wears on though, it turns out she isn’t as fearless as she seems. She’s grieving the loss of both her mother and her best friend Boo, with whom she opened a guinea-pig themed cafe, and who died when what was meant to be a suicidal gesture went tragically wrong. Fleabag (the character isn’t given a name) is now dealing with a failing business and strained relationships with what’s left of her family.
If, like me, you watched the TV series, some of the jokes and twists in the play will be very familiar. (I went to Junction with a friend who had never been exposed to Fleabag before, and she was genuinely surprised by a late revelation that I felt was more heavily hinted at on TV.)
“Ripple of unease”
But seeing the live version of the show is more than just a chance to relive Fleabag’s greatest hits. For a start, it provides more of a showcase for Waller-Bridge’s impressive physical comedy skills as she portrays the different characters – her cockney customer was probably the weakest of the bunch, but her take on Hilary the guinea pig was hilarious.
And if some of the people in her orbit understandably aren’t as fleshed out in the 80-minute stage show as they are over the course of a dozen TV episodes – Fleabag’s Godmother, brought to marvellously monstrous life by Olivia Colman on the small screen, is only really mentioned in passing here – others, like her sister, are brilliantly rendered.
It’s not a show for the easily offended, although Fleabag has been such a success that Waller-Bridge is now largely preaching to the converted. The only joke that seemed to cause a ripple of unease involved the supposed sexiness of domestic violence. Otherwise, the audiences at the Wyndham Theatre and Junction (which spanned an impressive range of ages, suggesting Fleabag’s appeal is much wider than the cynics who moan that it’s beloved by London-based TV critics and ignored by most of the viewing public would have you believe) were happy to howl at filthy lines about how a bloody handprint got on a bedroom wall.
But Fleabag wouldn’t be such a success if was just about shock value – it also has heart and is genuinely moving as Waller-Bridge gradually reveals the depths of her character’s despair.
So, if this really is the last goodbye, Fleabag is going out on a high. But if Waller-Bridge did want to reconsider, the demand is certainly still there…
images: Matt Humphrey