Culture, Entertainment

Review: Fleabag – National Theatre Live

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By Ellie Tyson

Three Emmy’s, a BAFTA and hundreds of rave reviews later and Phoebe Waller-Bridge has brought her hit production of Fleabagback to its roots on stage and it’s just as good, if not better than the TV adaptation.

Fleabag is currently being shown in cinemas around Manchester thanks to National Theatre Live. NT Live film live performances of theatre productions and stream them to cinemas across the UK and beyond, allowing audiences from all across the world to experience the best in British theatre from their local cinema.  

Everything but the actual content of the play is minimalistic, the stage layout is simply a chair in the middle of an otherwise empty stage and the only person the audience sees through the whole production is writer and main protagonist, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. And that’s the beauty of the show, it doesn’t need a big over-exaggerated production or a star-studded cast for it to be a more than enjoyable watch. Waller-Bridge’s impressions of other characters in the story are, in fact, some of the funniest moments of the play, particularly her pursed lipped imitation of ‘Rodent’, a man she meets on the tube with a “vanishing mouth”. 

The monologue performance follows Waller-Bridge in character as a young woman trying to navigate her way through life while having to deal with the distractions of her difficult family, a failing business and many often-unsuccessful sexual relationships. Fleabag, which debuted in 2013, remains current and the elements explored in the show are far from dated. The show provides a subtle exploration of the pressures of being a modern woman, with worries about being open about sexual desire and if that makes for being a “bad feminist”. 

Despite the TV show being based on the play, there are still differences between the two which make for a slightly different viewing experience. There’s no breaking of the fourth wall like in the TV show, instead Waller-Bridge addresses the audience as if she’s having a catch up with an old friend, giving the play a more personal feel. One of the most memorable moments of the theatre production that wasn’t included in the TV adaptation was the way in which Hilary the guinea pig meets her fate, which probably would have caused havoc for OFCOM complaints. Guinea pig lovers beware. 

The dark, witty humour is present throughout the play, something that Fleabag is well known and loved for. Phoebe Waller-Bridge creates just the right amount of balance in the production with her light hearted funny accounts but also the inclusion of darker, more poignant stories surrounding grief and the suicide of her best friend, Boo, and the reasons behind it. 

Watching Fleabag on stage confirmed just why it has been so successful since its debut at Edinburgh Fringe six years ago. Phoebe-Waller Bridge shows her excellence as both a writer and actor/performer, having the audience in stitches throughout with her quick wit, excellent comedic timing and PG anecdotes. Be sure to catch the NT Live production of Fleabag showing in cinemas across Manchester until October 15th

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