Fleabag is a sharply funny confessional, a fast paced and quick-witted glimpse into the sex-focused mind of young women coming to terms with loss. Fleabag speaks with honesty and upfrontness about the complex confusion of navigating a world that is falling apart around you, with the central character taking the audience on a comically detailed exploration of the messy, the horrifying and the mundane.
Maddie Rice illuminates the words of writer, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, in a performance that is captivating and surprising. Her deftness in erecting enthralling vignettes and caricatures combines with an impressive emotional vocabulary to create a performance that is textured, layered, and blisteringly funny. There are occasional moments in which she seems lost in the pace of the piece, but these are swept up in the hilarious whirlwind of a following moment.
I came to this performance of Fleabag after having loved the BBC TV series, which Waller-Bridge developed from the stage show. As a show dripping with the shocking unfiltered messiness of the character’s mind, I felt much more implicated in the problematic elements of character and framing when sitting in the theatre. Watching behind a screen allowed me to feel removed enough to be delighted with the depictions of grossness, of obtrusive weed-thoughts that are at odds with politics, and of this uncensored look into the mind of a person who is simply pretty awful, while as an audience member I felt as if my presence was in a way condoning the opinions and conclusions she was coming to. This relational dynamic with the performer and the script changed my reception of the content, highlighting how different mediums can completely shift the context of and reactions evoked by a work. Sitting in the Malthouse, I found myself questioning the content and viewing the often difficult things the character says more critically, turning this critical view onto the Malthouse’s choice of programming the work. However, I do think the work holds up in its ability to force an audience to grapple with their own unfiltered selves in ways that are uncomfortable and important.
Fleabag is a strong work in that it is disgustingly funny in surprising and unexpected ways and exposes the gritty reality that is the uncensored mind. As a live work it forces an audience into a relationship with the central character, which necessitates a critical reflection on both the self and of ones position as an audience member.