Hoo boy. If you're unfamiliar with the BAFTA Award-winning BBC/Amazon Prime comedy that was inspired by the original theatrical run of the show of the same name, you'll want to bring some smelling salts with you for Fleabag. I brought my mum, which in reflection was a bad idea.
The show, originally written and performed by comedian Phoebe Waller-Bridge, sees comedic actress Maddie Rice take up the prodigious mantle of 'Fleabag', the anxious, sex-crazed, entirely filterless guinea pig themed cafe owner. Thus begins an in-your-face hour of extremely lascivious comedy that must have had several audience members teetering between explosive laughter and cringing horror. Rice herself is excellent, with wonderful comedic expression and snappy timing on the brutal punchlines.
The fascinating aspect of the show, beyond the obvious magnetism of a protagonist spiraling into self-destruction, is how it approaches thorny issues like feminism, modern sexuality and mental illness. Many dramatic productions understandably discuss these controversial issues with great care and respect. Fleabag turns this idea on its head and savagely lampoons these subjects with great relish, which is either refreshingly abrupt or jarringly insulting, depending on your perspective. Subjectively, I thought it was excellent — an unabashedly satirical jab at the tiptoeing we affect when discussing these polarising topics.
This is not to say that Fleabag is by any means a happy show. It's rather another example of that impossibly awkward humour popularised by shows like It's Always Sunny and Shameless. In this kind of company, Waller-Bridge's creation stands as an uniquely feminine specimen that provides an insight into the anxieties, fears and shames that women may encounter when they find themselves at the end of their tether. It's bleak but at the same time, oddly empowering. By nakedly exposing the flaws of a woman in crisis, Fleabag asks us to consider her mostly unfortunate decisions as an individual, rather than solely through the societal lens through which we often judge women.
The enjoyment you get out of this play will rely largely upon how squeamish you are. If you're not easily flustered, Fleabag is a brutally honest and viciously funny romp that will leave you breathless with either laughter or horror. Maybe both.
My mum gives it four stars.