Review: Fleabag, Soho Theatre ✭✭✭✭✭

The excellent DryWrite have brought the multi-award winning Fleabag to London’s Soho Theatre from Edinburgh. Barreling in with a Fringe First and The Stage Female Solo Performance Award probably still unpacked in a rucksack, Fleabag is taking no prisoners. While the dank cavern of Edinburgh’s Underbelly was exquisitely suited to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s nocturne, London’s Soho is its natural home, filled as they both are with outlandish characters, startling events, a seedy undercurrent of casual sex, and riven through with the often unbearable loneliness of life in the City.

Fleabag is delightful. Like picking a scab is delightful, or drinking wine dregs in the morning is delightful. It captures a decadence and depravity that is blisteringly funny, painfully acute and oh, too, too close to home. Expertly crafted, it draws you in with one self-deprecating anecdote after another, carefully piling each on top of the last, until, like some ill-thought out move in Jenga, the awful whole can no longer bear the weight and comes crashing down. Fleabag lives a sort-of-life, with a sort-of-job, and a sort-of-problem.

Yet this is not a warning about the dangers of loose-living and hard-drinking. Nothing so simplistic. Waller-Bridge never invites her audience to judge her character, only to accept her. This is not a morality play, this is dangerously close to verbatim theatre – this is life, recognisable, dirty, sour, real. You laugh, not at the character, but with her; you know her. It’s an appalling portrait, but an all too truthful one.

The lyricism of the piece is given a masterly realization in Waller-Bridge’s performance. Waller-Bridge has been quietly emerging over the last few years as one of our most exciting young acting talents. In Fleabag, this talent is given full rein, while also announcing her as a dazzling writer. Waller-Bridge’s extraordinarily expressive face and body perfectly capture the downward spiral, turning skillfully on a dime from joy to despair, taking the audience with her like a virtuoso storyteller, and maintaining a feral, hunted look which builds, almost imperceptibly throughout. Director Vicky Jones keeps the performance tight and small and pelting along at a breathtaking pace which allows the rare moment of silence to land like an explosion. In a performance that relies so much on the physicality of the performer, and her interaction with the audience, these moments of silence, where Waller-Bridge rips off the mask for a second, these moments haunt.

This may not appeal to your parents, but for a young, buzzy, London crowd this is theatre that speaks directly to them, and their sort-of lives. And those lives may never seem quite so much fun again.

***** (5 stars)
Runs until 22nd September 2013
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