Was there ever a more provocative debut than this? Phoebe Waller-Bridge certainly made a huge splash with Fleabag when she opened it up at Edinburgh Fringe last year. Since then, this ode to modern womanhood has picked up every award going as most promising playwright (a lethal label really, how do you follow it?) and as performer.
But follow it she did, in a sense, with DryWrite colleague Vicky Jones doing a turnabout and penning The One with Waller-Bridge this time as performer only. Together, Fleabag and The One form a complement to each other. Both portray the modern woman in all her unsavoury fullness: sexually rampant, morally dissolute and remarkably for one so young, world-wearily cynical.
Watching Phoebe Waller-Bridge performing Fleabag is a bit like watching a charging rhino. She – the character – carries all before her, transgressive, into porn, alcohol and men in no particular order. She’s cruel, heartless, and funny in a derisory, louche sort of way. Very much of `now’, you can hear the audience sucking in their breath or whooping with recognition as she fearlessly sounds off, daring to say the unsayeable in public about the disaster that is her `guinea-pig’ themed café (don’t ask), the unfortunate mistake that ended her best friend’s life and her endless encounters with men, on the tube, at festivals, in the café and the questionable `selfies’ taken to pleasure a former boy-friend.
Seemingly nothing out of bounds or off limits, Waller-Bridge’s own performance is by turns shocking, wonderfully observed and sad. She treads a devastatingly fine line between danger and the truthfulness of the stand-up comic which kept reminding me of the late, great American satirist Lenny Bruce.
Apart from the sheer juiciness of Waller-Bridge’s writing, by the end I couldn’t help wondering if Fleabag actually wasn’t a bit of a sly warning, like Lucy Kirkwood’s NSFW, of where modern feminism has brought us to.
It’s not a pretty sight and troublingly reinforces, like The One, stereotypes of women’s desires and fantasies around rape. But there is no doubting the talent and brilliant skill employed to provoke such thoughts. You can’t leave without wondering what will come next.