Sunday, 8 September 2013

Theatre review: Fleabag

Fleabag needs a job, but the interview gets off to a bad start when she accidentally flashes her bra at her prospective boss - the fact that he's just been done for sexual harassment doesn't make him any less on edge. Phoebe Waller-Bridge performs her self-penned monologue Fleabag which, framed by the disastrous job interview, takes us back over how the 26-year-old woman ended up quite so chaotic. Following her best friend's death, Fleabag struggles to keep open the guinea pig-themed café they ran together. Her on-off boyfriend also walks out on her, possibly for good this time, and her first reaction is to start playing the field again as soon as possible. Waller-Bridge's hilarious play is an hour's journey through the world of a woman who approaches life and sexuality in ways we stereotypically expect of men.

The publicity for Fleabag has focused heavily on how sexually explicit it is, and it's not like this isn't true: The actress has got her kit off in past shows but this fully-clothed performance is filthier than any of those. Entire nights spent wanking to online porn, musings on anal sex, and discussions on pubic trimming at a funeral all feature, as does an evening of sexual experimentation that, had it not been memorable enough in itself, left her bedroom wall with a handprint reminder. But although comic sexual adventures are always just round the corner, for me this was a piece as much about embarrassment at a feminist lecture, sisters storing up material for use in future arguments, and a pretentious muso guinea pig.

The always watchable actress, directed by Vicky Jones, gives a performance that rarely even sees her stand up from her stool, but which still feels full of relentless energy and invention. As with many a comic play there's a touching heart to Fleabag, but the writing never hammers it home. Instead over the course of an hour we get to see the serious problems that lie behind the character's misadventures, but with very little pause in the laughs. Whether they come with a gasp at an extreme thought that nice girls aren't supposed to express in public, or at a more traditionally clever bit of astute observation, those laughs keep coming. Fleabag is aptly named - a filthy mutt you can't help loving.

Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge is booking until the 22nd of September at Soho Theatre Upstairs.

Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes straight through.

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