What does it mean to be a 21st century, sexually liberated woman? Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag – the unnamed protagonist of her prolonged monologue, Fleabag – might come close to it. Fleabag is an unabashed, vulgar and hilariously honest 26 year old woman, recalling her last 48 hours. She’s up for pretty much anything, and don’t we know it.
Waller-Bridge’s intention is to shock. Indeed, her audacious reversal of an overly honest character as a female comfortable with her sexuality – rather than the conventional male character – is novel, probing societal taboos regarding female sexuality. Waller-Bridge’s paradoxical character embodies both patriarchal and feminist ideals, representing perceived problems associated with contemporary feminism. She jokes about her wish to trade years of her life for a better body, yet embodies a sexually liberated female, one that can openly discuss – even boast – about her appetite for casual sex. She jokes about past experiences: threesomes, explicit pictures taken in her work’s disabled lavatory, her addiction to YouPorn – they’re all there. It is shockingly refreshing.
Maddie Rice aptly captures the part, maintaining the audience’s attention and successfully tackling the difficulties associated with an undisturbed monologue. Rice does capture some tenderer moments, demonstrating the insecurities associated with her character’s behaviour. Indeed, such scenes save Fleabag from complete condemnation; however, an enhancement and higher frequentation of scenes of this type may have endeared her even more to her audience. Nevertheless, the hints, if subtle, are there: Fleabag is a character with whom we can laugh, but simultaneously pity for her determination to maintain her detached exterior. Ultimately Fleabag is desperately alone, having pushed her best friend, Boo, to suicide, with ‘Hilary the Hamster’ providing her only company – and she even faces a traumatic end in the final scenes of the play.
Furthermore, Waller-Bridge’s sensationally filthy monologue works well with the subtle and plain set of Vicky Jones – Fleabag’s director. The voiceover of various characters adds an interesting dimension, with Rice engaging well with such an impersonal technique.
Fleabag was a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining production, with hidden socio-political questions. One dimensionally, Fleabag can be viewed as a typical Bridget Jones 20-something nymphomaniac bordering on an identity crisis. However, writer, director and actor all manage to capture a deeper undercurrent to the piece. For Fleabag is a feminist triumph: she’s refreshingly honest, encouraging reflection on societal values and norms. Overall, Waller-Bridge’s delightfully shocking monologue is much like having a conversation with an overly chatty, sexually voracious, slightly-too-drunk best friend: great entertainment with just the right amount of shock.