20 March 2020 | TheLittleSongbird
How to do a one-person show
Phoebe Waller-Bridge's 'Fleabag' fascinated me from the get go. The story sounded great and easy to relate to, and it followed on from its original conception of a stand-up storytelling routine and then from the very positively reviewed television series (the story here based upon the first episode). Have also seen many instances of brilliant one-person shows, including various productions of Poulenc's/Cocteau's 'La Voix Humaine' and even a one-man performance of 'A Christmas Carol'.
This production of 'Fleabag', transmitted in 2019 as part of the interesting and always worthwhile National Theatre Live series did not disappoint. Actually saw 'Fleabag' when it was shown in cinemas but it has taken me a long time to get round to reviewing it, being behind on my reviewing and my personal life being difficult. Anybody who has heard of the production and the television series but yet to see either and want to see what the fuss is about should absolutely give both a try.
Visually, 'Fleabag' is very minimalist. For me though that added to the intimacy that a one-person show (well one-woman show here) and any monologue should have, if the production tried to do too much visually it would have distracted from the drama and atmosphere. Yet the simple look works very well indeed and good use is made of the space.
Cannot praise the writing enough. The adult humour is both hilarious and sly, as well as remarkably tasteful considering what some of it is referencing or poking fun at. It is not just non-stop hilarity, there is a more sorrowful tone in places that gives the production a lot of depth, these moments representing guilt and feeling alone. All intelligently done and tightly structured. The story is always enthralling, immediately grabbing the attention from the start and never losing it and the tonal shifts are seamless, amazing considering that the emotions are constantly shifting but there is nothing choppy here.
'Fleabag's' range of emotions is very wide and handled with ease. There is a pulling no punches approach to the storytelling, for example in the agreed chilling ending, but the production doesn't go heavy-handedly on that while not glossing over. The title character is always interesting and the production does a great job in allowing one to root for her.
Waller-Bridge's superb performance has a lot to thank for that. Not since Ingrid Bergman in 1966's 'The Human Voice' has a one-woman show performance riveted and moved (amused too in Waller-Bridge's case) me this much, as far as film etc viewings in the past five years or so go that is.
Overall, brilliant and one of my biggest must see recommendations in some time. 10/10