Sexually adventurous and emotionally insecure, Fleabag is the kind of angry woman confessionalism that I’d love to see a bit more of. First bursting onto the scene in 2013 with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s prize winning performance of her own character monologue, Fleabag, the unique feminist enigma, is back in town.
While Waller-Bridge has become a star in her own right, the piece still stands alone as an act of protest against the confusing combination of feminism, girl power, innocence and porn that is fed to women.
Maddie Rice is wearing Fleabag’s crown this fringe. She beats with the kind of feral energy that Fleabag’s outrageous heart needs. The monologue is completely uncensored, as we’re taken on a journey of causal anal sex, threesomes, masturbating to Obama and taking vagina selfies. Although surely a sex addict, it is still refreshing to hear Fleabag talk so frankly about her sexual desires and encounters.
Rice’s clever dexterity balancing the comic and tragic script was more than a match for Waller-Bridge. They share the same haughty upper-middle class accent that adds to a millennial trait of entitlement, complementing Fleabag’s unlikable character traits. Rice echoes Waller-Bridge’s original frank delivery with a skilled directness as she addresses the audience. Her comic re-enactment of a hamster’s death was particularly amusing.
The simple staging has Rice on a solo chair for the performance, ensuring the material sits centre stage. Rice is however sometimes lost in the 400+ seats of Underbelly. One can’t help image the piece in a small, un-miked venue. At moments Rice lost intimacy with her large audience, but the filthy and flirtatious material is so finely polished by now that she soon grabbed our attention again.
Fleabag is not an easily palatable feminist play. For one, it feeds into the stereotype of crazy sex sluts, reinforcing the mean bitch trope. On the other hand, it is widely liberating, depicting a fiercely headstrong and independent but unlikable character. It taps at the veins of honest human emotion as Fleabag pulsates with anger, fear, lust and sadness. Thus in its complexity and raw bare all attitude it cannot avoid a feminist label.
Even after all her incarnations, Fleabag is an original enigma. While she worked better as an indignant and indulgent up close sitcom, it still feels right to give this prime fringe spot to the Bridget Jones for mellennials. Fleabag’s space at the fringe is as pertinent as ever. While I was watching this sexually liberated young woman tell it like it is, I knew that a few venues along there would be an evening of top quality male comedians talking about their genitals and tinder. Brash though she is, Fleabag is a loud fuck you to the sexism at fringe and (sadly) is as fresh and exciting as she was in 2013.