You might’ve glimpsed Phoebe Waller-Bridge in the films Albert Nobbs or The Iron Lady, while on television she was part of the ensemble cast of Sky series The Café. Her film and television credits aren’t extensive, but that won’t be the case for much longer, as the Olivier-nominated stage actress is currently winning rave reviews for her one-woman show Fleabag, which after sell out performances at the Edinburgh Fringe, is currently in the middle of it’s second run at the Soho Theatre in London, shortly after which, it’s being developed for television.
Years ago, watching Richard Ayoade make such a huge impression as part of the Cambridge Footlights on tour, his jump to television as Dean Learner on Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place and Moss on The IT Crowd (never mind his transition to directing what currently stands as my favourite film of 2014, The Double) would never have occurred to me, though it seems obvious now. This time I’m looking ahead and forecasting similarly big things for Waller-Bridge, whose range as an actress on stage includes period farce in Noel Coward’s Hayfever (to which her look and physicality is so well suited), probing portraits of modern families (in Nina Raine’s acidly unsparing Tribes) and foul-mouthed, deeply conflicted women in The One and Fleabag, devised by her own new writing theatre company DryWrite, co-founded with friend Vicky Jones, the director of this award-wining show.
An hour-long monologue written and performed by Waller-Bridge, (who plays all the parts, as well as our questionable heroine), Fleabag is a raucously rude, taboo-busting trip into the darkest corners of female sexuality and the mind of a sex-obsessed, profoundly lonely women. Drawing blood as well as disbelieving laughter, Fleabag’s self-centered selfishness is shocking enough that one can hear that laughter becoming increasingly hollow as her uncensored confessions become more and more discomfortingly depraved.
As psychologically fraught as it is filthy, it’s a play that bares seeing twice (or at least reading after you’ve seen it, so pick up a copy of the script on the way out), as the embarrassed howls from couples out on the most daring date night of their lives, sometimes overpower the play’s far subtler, more acute observations about the shame of living as a societal black sheep. It’s these profundities and the honesty of Waller-Bridge’s performance that make Fleabag likable and relatable in spite of herself. Plenty of shock bombs drop out the character’s mouth, but beyond eliciting the obvious reaction, Waller-Bridge is encouraging us to think about whether or not this is the right reaction to be having—both within the performer/spectator relationship of theatre, and life itself.
Fleabag is a perfect vehicle for Waller-Bridge’s obvious talents, a commanding performance, combining the outspoken brashness of Lucy Punch, the self-corrective charm of Chris O’ Dowd, and the aching awkwardness of the aforementioned Ayoade, three British comedians who went on to find success in Hollywood, working alongside the likes of Judd Apatow, Ben Stiller and Paul Rudd.
Developing her own material across theatre, film and TV, if there’s any justice, Waller-Bridge will be the next great British export to make a splash on US comedy scene, so be sure to catch her in Fleabag before she’s stealing films out from under from the likes of Cameron Diaz and Steve Carell in supporting parts on the big screen.
In the following interview, Waller-Bridge talks about Fleabag, as well as focusing on her previous DryWrite productions with co-founder Vicky Jones, Mydidae and The One
Apologies for the soft focus in the video, this is due to a camera fault with the focus mechanism which regrettably, could not be rectified on the day.
As always, we recommend viewing the video in 720p which can be selected from the settings option within YouTube
First published by Vérité Film Magazine on May 17, 2014