Fleabag was made for these times. There are few characters as brutally honest, flawed and unfiltered as the lonely London 20-something who makes light of uncomfortable situations with a wicked sense of humour.
In 2013, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s monologue, Fleabag, about an over-sexed Londoner, was the hit of the Edinburgh Fringe winning the First Fringe Award that year. Five years later, and on top of touring, Fleabag is a critically acclaimed TV show on both sides of the Atlantic while the star and creator (Waller-Bridge) has a prominent role in the upcoming Han Solo film.
The television version of Fleabag is a cult hit called a “precision black humour mechanism” by The New Yorker while the title character is “an original” who is “at once a mischief maker and a figure of pathos”.
The original production of Fleabag will tour Australia with a lengthy season in Adelaide as part of the Adelaide Fringe. Waller-Bridge won’t be on stage in Australia, though, she is writing the second season of Fleabag in Los Angeles, as comedy actor Maddie Rice, who has been performing Fleabag since 2015, will perform the bad feminist Londoner’s monologue that has connected with people all over the world.
Though Fleabag has been compared to Lena Dunham’s Girls, it has more in common with the dark confessional nature of Peep Show and cringe wrongness of Curb Your Enthusiasm, although Fleabag is a much more sympathetic character than ‘Larry David’. For Rice, she believes Fleabag “embodies life for a 20-something in a metropolitan environment” as despite being around millions of people, Fleabag is basically isolated and alone.
“I think the great thing about the character is that we all identify with that whole, ‘if you don’t laugh you’ll cry’ kind of thing,” Rice says. “She spends a lot of her time making light out of everything, making everything funny and shocking and a game, so that she doesn’t have to deal with the tragedies that have happened to her over recent years.”
Rice says there are bits of herself, her friends and her sister in the character and the reason why Fleabag connects with so many is because what she shares with the audience is usually information limited to things your closest friends share one-onone, thus, creating a bond between audience and character.
“You get a window into this person, who you don’t know, and discover her deepest, darkest thoughts,” Rice says. “It’s very much confessional.”
Rice auditioned for Fleabag after the director Vicky Jones suggested the comedy actor after seeing her in the comedy sketch show Lead Pencil, as Jones and Waller-Bridge were originally looking for a dramatic actor to take on Waller-Bridge’s role for the stage production.
“They had been auditioning for a while, and I was speaking to Phoebe about this yesterday actually, they realised that without any humour on top of the text, it’s just quite sad because there’s a real tragic undercurrent to the play. If you don’t get the jokes and the humour it’s quite hard to watch because it is so funny and that’s what makes it a good show.”
Waller-Bridge’s presentation of the character on stage and screen has a cult-like following across the world but Rice doesn’t just recreate the creator’s performance.
“I remember when Phoebe first saw me do it, there were bits where she was like, ‘Oh, that really made me laugh because you do it differently to how I do it’. Lots of people have said that I’ve made it very much my own and I think it comes from a different body saying the same words.”
The Box, Garden of Unearthly Delights
Tuesday, Februrary 27 until Sunday, March 18, 7pm nightly