entertainment

'Fleabag' review: Does Phoebe Waller-Bridge's stage show still capture the magic of the TV series?

Phoebe Waller-Bridge's genius play-turned-TV series gets a West End debut - and farewell.

2019-08-29

Words: Thomas Stichbury

Ouch. My fingers are still burning after managing to get my mitts on the hottest theatre ticket in town: Fleabag.

Forgive the humble brag/obnoxious gloat, but I was this close to amputating my pinky toe and sending it to a very strange, but wealthy, well-connected man on the internet in exchange for a seat – some people have the strangest kinks, but hey ho.

Tootsies intact, press pass in hand, I hotfooted it to London’s Wyndham’s Theatre to see Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s seminal play-turned-seminal TV series make its West End debut following a sold-out run on Broadway.

The fun began before the curtain had even rose as I played a game of ‘spot the famous faces in the crowd’ to see which of PWB’s former castmates had come along to celebrate her big night: sister Clare (Sian Clifford), check! Hot priest (Andrew ‘KNEEL’ Scott), check! Drippy ex-boyfriend Harry (Hugh Skinner), check! Bus rodent (Jamie Demetriou), check! Sexy arsehole guy (Ben ‘fucking fit’ Aldridge), check!

Sadly, oh-so-wicked godmother, the oh-so-delightful Olivia Colman, was MIA, unless my beady eyes deceived me.

Six years on from its bigwig head-turning appearance at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and mere months after the small screen version’s nigh-on perfect conclusion, expectations were high for the farewell staging of PWB’s one-woman show – but, boy, did the most in-demand lady in showbiz land deliver.

Sexy, subversive and heart-shatteringly sad, Fleabag hit familiar beats for audience members who had only watched the BBC’s awards-laden adaptation – “Is my arsehole massive?” lassoed the evening’s biggest laugh – but also plumbed deeper, darker, uncharted depths in this story of a lost, lonely, sex-obsessed young woman grieving the loss of her best friend, Boo.

Animal lovers, be warned, guinea pig Hillary faces a somewhat different fate than she did on the Beeb…

Spending the show’s hour-and-a-half duration on stage alone, mostly sat on a stool – aided only by sister Isobel Waller Bridge’s clever sound design – the stripped-back set somehow amplified PWB’s sheer star wattage.

Armed with her trademark weaponry, a whip-smart wit, mischievous grin and, quite possibly, the most expressive face on the planet, PWB cast her spell, whether regaling a story about having a threesome while one is on their period, doing an impression of Hillary having a nervous poo, or delivering a devilishly dark joke about domestic abuse.

The term ‘tour de force’ can sometimes be tossed around with abandon, but there really is no more fitting word to describe PWB’s performance as she made us laugh, squirm and ugly cry.

Fleabag, it’s been one heck of a ride.

Fleabag runs at Wyndham’s Theatre until 14 September and will broadcast in cinemas around the UK on 12 September.

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