Fleabag (Live Screening, 2019)

“He’s so bony… it’s like fucking a protractor”

Over the past few years, live viewings of National Theatre productions have increased in popularity with sold out screens all over the globe. Admittedly, I have never attended (mainly due to the price) but when I saw that Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s brilliant one-woman show Fleabag was going to be screened live from the Wyndham’s Theatre, I knew I had to go. As an avid fan of the show and Waller-Bridge, I have been counting down the days to see this and I was wasn’t disappointed. Fleabag follows a young woman as she navigates a life filled with heartbreak, relationships and a lot of sex. She is the sole owner of a guinea-pig themed café after her best friend, Boo, accidentally-on-purpose commits suicide. This run of performances marks Waller-Bridge’s last venture as her iconic creation and all tickets sold out within minutes making it one of the most anticipated theatre trips of the year. Sadly, I was unable to get tickets but I took this opportunity to see it immediately as I knew I would regret it instantly.

Fleabag herself is gritty to the extreme. She’s unfiltered, unapologetic and always thinking and talking about sex but she’s also complex, smart and relatable. I think this is why the character is universally loved. The character is a brilliantly rounded portrayal of the 21st century woman. A true modern feminist hero (even if in one hilarious slip, she admits that she would trade 5 years of her life for the “so-called perfect body”). She’s brutally honest, hilarious and riddled with bad habits such as excessive drinking, smoking and masturbating while her partner sleeps beside her. It’s as if Fleabag breaks every rule in the book and is a walking taboo.

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Waller-Bridge’s script and Vicky Jones’ direction are impeccable. Every move and expression is calculated and enhancing the dialogue. It’s compact and tight with every segment executed perfectly. The setting is minimalist to the extreme, Fleabag and a chair in centre stage but the performance Waller-Bridge brings is anything but. Dressed in a red jumper and jeans, Waller-Bridge transports us to various locations around London, acting out different characters such as her sister, a job interviewer and regular café customer, Joe. I was interested to see if I would be as invested when watching it on a screen rather than in the theatre itself and I found myself transfixed. The camera work was brilliant and the sound was impeccable.

Compared to the BBC series, the stage production is grittier and sadder than its counterpart. The first episode covers the show with the revelation of the first season finale so a lot is added into the TV series. Fleabag seems even more unfiltered and unhinged in the stage production which I didn’t think was possible and it was great to see some familiar moments that I recognised from the show.

I wasn’t too sure what to expect but it was a brilliant experience and I hope to go to many more National Theatre productions. The atmosphere was great and everyone in the theatre audience and cinema audience were completely invested in her story. I expected to laugh which I did in abundance but I wasn’t expecting to cry as much as I did. A heartbreaking segment with Fleabag and Hilary, the café’s mascot guinea pig, is horrific to watch and brought an array of gasps and tears from both sets of audiences. There’s an encore screening in October and I recommend that you book tickets as soon as possible. It’s a brilliant and refreshing piece of theatre that shows how a simple production can create a complex experience.

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