“I’d just like my tits to be that much bigger — does that make me a terrible feminist?”
Such forthright, fourth wall busting, hilarious, and conspiratorial asides make ‘Fleabag’ an inventive dark comic character study; the most talked about dramatic phenomenon for some time. A strong, intelligent woman, so much more than a 21st century Bridget Jones, where her motivation is to find inner peace rather than romantic love.
Fleabag is a smart, lovable mess. Vivacious yet broken, she is the creation of writer and actor Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Starting out as a 10-minute sketch, it evolved into a critically acclaimed one-woman show at the Edinburgh Fringe, transferred to London’s Soho Theatre where it was Olivier-nominated before being adapted for television. There is an array of brilliant supporting characters performed by a stellar cast including Oscar-winner Olivia Coleman (“She is not an evil stepmother, she’s just a c**t!”), Andrew Scott (Moriarty from ‘Sherlock’), Fiona Shaw (‘Killing Eve’) and Sian Clifford (“She’s uptight and beautiful and probably anorexic, but clothes look great on her, so… ”). Such sharp intake of breath comments by Fleabag are close to the wire but always delivered deadpan or with a conspiratorial smirk to the camera. Intelligence and irony underpin her asides, expressing thoughts we may not dare vocalise for fear of being a “bad feminist” or politically incorrect.
Fleabag’s external ‘togetherness’ in appearance with her cool clothes, great hair, perfect makeup, upper-middle-class family and London chic lifestyle attending art gallery openings and feminist lectures masks her chaotic life; the recent death of her mother, her drunken one night stands, and her dysfunctional family and relationships. The primary source of Fleabag’s damage, loneliness and self-destructive behaviour is her betrayal of her best friend Boo and intense guilt at having slept with her boyfriend resulting in her indicated suicide. Fleabag’s enthusiastic embracement of her sexuality, including multiple casual hookups, masturbation to BBC coverage of Barack Obama and sexting photos of her vagina, is done with such confidence, daring the audience to slut shame her. While sexually liberated and equal to men – being economically self-reliant, confident and actively pursuing sexual pleasure – the pathos of sex having had such catastrophic, destructive consequences is always present with regular flashbacks to Boo. Her pursuit of pleasure has caused ultimate pain.
Fleabag is rife with wonderful contradictions. Strong yet fragile, witty yet grief-stricken, a feminist who would happily give up 5 years of her life to have the perfect body, an atheist having a relationship with a sexy Catholic priest. She steals, swears, treats people badly, and has random sexual encounters. She is not one to sleepwalk her way through life but grabs it by the throat to experience every minute. She makes mistakes but knows herself and doesn’t give up even when, at her lowest, she says she just wants to cry all the time. “I have a horrible feeling I am a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist.” A complex creation – the audience never knows her real name – Fleabag is an immense, fun, lovable, chaotic, glorious character. A true individual and every-woman for our times. There is a little bit of Fleabag in all of us.