Review: NT Live: Fleabag

13 November 2019

Fleabag was a like a surprisingly uncomfortable massage into knots I didn’t know I had. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one woman show kneaded into my internalised shame surrounding: my sexuality, my adolescent selfishness and the healthy mix of narcissism and crippling insecurity that’s etched into my 20-something soul. I left the cinema feeling looser and better for the viewing. 

Fleabag was, of course, adapted from the one-woman show I was blessed with, into an emmy award winning BBC TV series of the same name. This series has remained in the notes section of my phone in my list of ‘TV shows to watch’ for the last 6 months – I’m still yet to watch it. So, untainted by any preconceived ideas of the story or characters within it, I consumed Waller-Bridge’s National Theatre Live stage show recording in its purest form. In some ways it felt like the best way to do it – like reading a book before watching the movie. 

As a red-lipped Waller-Bridge stood centre stage, rolling up the sleeves of her jumper that matched her lips and painting pictures with her words, I conjured up my very own versions of the characters she spoke of. With faultless comic timing and clever script writing, she gave the audience just enough detail to mould and shape believable, imperfect characters in their minds. Not least her short-lived lover ‘rodent’, who spoke as though he didn’t want to let the words out of his mouth. 

Seated centre stage on a stool, with minimal sound effects and lighting, Waller-Bridge embodied the unnamed protagonist (who at times shifted into the antagonist) so convincingly that I later googled whether the show was autobiographical (it’s not). The hair on arms prickled as the darkest parts of her character resonated with the bits of myself I push very far down. The show was provocative, confronting and deeply hilarious.

I was shocked and in awe of the crude and bluntly honest nature of the dialogue. Waller-Bridge uttered human truths I would barely acknowledge to myself let alone say out loud. Her imperfections and desires felt both uncomfortably familiar and liberating. That’s not to say it was fluffy in it’s provocativity. Filled to the brim with emotion, Fleabag was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. 

Waller-Bridge’s one woman show tackles the messiness of life, loss and people in a clean and sharp way. Deeply lonely, unapologetically sexual and at times a bit of a dick – Fleabag delivers a complex female protagonist who will mirror the best and worst of yourself back to you.

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