Review by Cicely Binford
Fleabag might be you. Or your best friend. Or your sister. Or heaven forbid, she might be your partner. She’s a mess, and she threatens to drag you down with her; sometimes she succeeds. But she’s funny as hell, and nothing shocks her (especially not the terrible things she does to herself and to others), so you’re free to be your own disgusting self around her. That’s her appeal.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge‘s solo show was made into a series for the BBC in 2016, thus cementing Fleabag’s popularity, giving it a worldwide audience. My first encounter with Fleabag was indeed via some online streaming service, and I was immediately engrossed by its anti-heroine, her terrible behaviour, and all the uncomfortable situations she gets herself into. She’s a woman you don’t soon forget, one you hope you don’t resemble too much, and one who covertly endears you to her.
The Blue Room Theatre has brought Fleabag to Perth to see out its 2018 Summer Nights program, which is a big coup for those indie theatre champs. Maddie Rice has taken over the Fleabag role at Edinburgh Fringe, Sydney Festival and now FRINGE WORLD before the show moves on to Melbourne’s Malthouse in March. She’s stepped into Waller-Bridge’s shoes and given them her own kind of spit-polish.
The titular character begins her story at a job interview where she accidentally flashes her potential boss, who happens to be under investigation for sexual misconduct. Fleabag then jumps back in time to show us how she ended up there, and her exploits include: a boyfriend who walks out on her because she’s masturbated next to him in bed to videos of Obama; a best friend and business partner who has recently died, leaving her to run a failing guinea pig-themed cafe; random sexual encounters involving anal; taking vagina selfies in the work toilet.
Fleabag’s story is full of sadness that’s never fully revealed – it hides behind everything she is and does; she is a pitiful creature who can’t connect to her own emotions, let alone to anyone else in her life. She uses humour to deflect, cover up, and minmise her own grief, and uses sex as a salve.
We travel deeper and further down the spiral with her, wondering how things could have gotten this bad, how a woman could have such a malfunctioning moral compass. Rice is an excellent anti-guide into this troubled woman’s world – punchlines land perfectly, and she stays ever-buoyant atop the murky emotional waters that Fleabag dog-paddles through.
Fleabag goes to some very dark places; her desperate, depraved behaviour is often illuminated with vivid imagery. But it’s the unspoken thoughts, the thoughts we see flickering behind her eyes when she’s finished talking, that tell the real story. And this, along with a careful sprinkling of absurd humour, is how Rice makes Fleabag plausible and palatable.
Fleabag runs until 24 Feb at The Blue Room Theatre with limited tickets left available. For tickets and more information, visit the event page here.