National Theatre Live: Fleabag (2019)



Having just watched Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Crashing (2016) (available on Netflix), I am now a big fan of her vulnerable, heartfelt comedy. The two seasons of her TV show Fleabag (2016-17) are on my to-watch-list, delayed only by the need to purchase them. It seemed apt to see the one person show that began Fleabag’s story and thank goodness for Cinema Nova for screening National Theatre live versions of hit shows, including this one.

I’m not particularly theatre-literate and so this review is really about Waller-Bridge and her story. The camera is stationary and we see a stage with a spotlight and single chair. Waller-Bridge is Fleabag, taking us through her days as she tries to cope with the absence of her best friend Boo and the struggle to run their guinea pig-themed cafe. The only prop is the chair and the occasional voice-over and sound effect. We are aware of the audience and their laughter (and one gasp) permeates the story, only occasionally pulling us out of the world that Waller-Bridge creates.

It is remarkable how Waller-Bridge builds characters and scenes that we can practically see. Her use of voice and gesture creates a convincing world where we slowly understand what has brought her to this point. It’s often funny, but with an occasional awkward moment when we/the audience instinctively laughs before realising the tragedy of the moment.

Waller-Bridge’s skill is in creating a character in Fleabag who is likeable and recognisable, and who seems to have agency in her life, and then slowly revealing the very familiar and heartbreaking vulnerabilities that hide beneath the facade. Like Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette (2018), we are pulled in by the humour and buffered, for awhile, from the tragedy. I felt similarly fundamentally altered by the experience.

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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