It was around this time last year that I was walking though a fancy neighbourhood in London; having just finished binge watching the six part TV series Fleabag before spotting Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the creator and show runner on the street. I remember doing a double take before walking back a few paces to the spot where I saw her. To my embarrassment, I gawked. Staring at the character in real life I had to fight the urge to walk up to her and demand to know how, despite Fleabag being an immoral and sometimes glib sex addict, why I still liked and cared for her so much.
I was happy to find that I had the same experience in the 65 minute long show on opening night at The Box in The Garden. The hit stage comedy is born from Waller-Bridge’s 2013 monologue about a selfish and chaotic 20-something girl living in London, who is trying to keep her flailing guinea pig themed café afloat while coming to terms with the death of her best friend by fucking everything that moves.
The play earned accolades at the Edinburgh Fringe on its release, before being turned into a BAFTA award-winning BBC/Amazon Original series, returning back to the stage this year with Maddie Rice in the lead as the irreverent Fleabag.
For those who haven’t seen the TV series, the title character accurately named Fleabag is destructive, self sabotaging, morally repugnant, hilarious, tragic, charming and endearing. She breaks the fourth wall to deliver cutting and poignant insights into the woe of modern life that make your insides retract in uncomfortable self realisation and want to scream ‘TOO REAL’.
I was sceptical to see how anyone could fill the shoes of Waller-Bridge and was scared I was going to have to endure a poor man's rendition, but Rice is simply brilliant in her one woman portrayal, effortlessly slipping between characters with the slight shift of her face and slump of her back. Rice delivers clever dialogue, causing audiences to fall a little in love with this train-wreck of a human being. The flawless carry over is obviously a testament to director Vicky Jones, who has been with the project since its development in 2013.
The show is all together outrageously funny (at one point I had to turn to the woman sat behind me to make sure she was still breathing as she was doubled over in hysterics) but while shocking, it's never so for shock value. I think what is most striking is the subtle balance of how in the same breath that you begin laughing – whether because of Fleabag’s impersonation of wooing a rat faced lover on the tube, or the fear of having an enormous arsehole after performing anal for the first time the night before - you’re smacked with small revelations about the tragedy of human existence and then go on laughing anyway. It’s not sappy or cheesy or self-reverential and we shouldn’t like Fleabag but we do.
For those who have seen the TV series, it's nice to touch base and visit the place of the story's inception as well as take in a standout performance by Maddie Rice. For those who haven't, well you're in for a treat with this story of a shitty little Fleabag.
WHERE: The Box @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights
WHEN: NOW - 18th March at 7.00pm (excluding Mondays)
DURATION: 65 minutes
PRICE: $24 - $35 AUD
For more information or to buy tickets click here.