Fleabag @ Underbelly, Edinburgh Fringe

‘Fleabag’ is a modern woman. Her coarse desire for sex is insatiable, damn the consequences, with an appetite for anything: ‘lesbian’ ‘gay’ ‘gangbang’ ‘anal’ ‘swallow’.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s brilliant one-woman-performance, showcases her RADA performance training, as she populates the world around her modern anti-hero character: Fleabag, who tries to save her guinea-pig themed café. She carefully censors all the other female characters so that Fleabag, Waller-Bridge herself, is their mouthpiece, unlike some of the men, whose pre-recorded voices crackle from the speakers. The most powerful scenes of this are between Fleabag and her estranged sister, who comes across as cold and detached, and it is here where Waller-Bridge’s keen ear for dialogue is at its best. We are forced to accept Fleabag’s narcissistic, easy-going world-view, which is shockingly kinky and comically depressing.

Although Fleabag is perhaps not a person you would want to know (or want your boyfriend to know), she has a likability and brash honesty that is admirable. Her sex addiction, not for the act itself, but for the performance, imposes a meta-theatricality in the play. We watch her stare blankly into the centre of the audience, clicking through porn channels until she is ‘red raw’ and can’t help but see her behaviour as a product of the modern porn culture.

The play is peppered with feminist dialogue and although Fleabag colours herself as a bad feminist, it probes the question – didn’t they burn their bras for this? Waller-Bridge captures modern debate with a wry tentative cheekiness that avoids the play from being weighed down. Instead she powerfully enacts one girl’s desperate story as one-by-one she loses everything.

There is never any accusation that Fleabag is more sinned against than sinning, and she takes the full brunt of our disgust at her behaviour. Nevertheless, with a father who abandons her, an ex-boyfriend who wants her to be a ‘beautiful dirty bitch’ and a male interviewer who, despite his own case of sexual harassment, stays in a position of power, there seems to be a clear gender bias. Of course, this is never the whole story and characters like the old cockney café local balances our prejudice and we learn that like the modern woman, the modern man cannot be easily classified.

Next appearing at Soho Theatre 3rd-22nd September: http://sohotheatre.com/whats-on/fleabag-drywrite/

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