Before the TV show “Fleabag” won three Emmy awards in 2019, it started as a one-woman play first performed in 2013 at the Edinburgh festival.
This past Saturday, the IU Cinema screened the play “Fleabag” live from London. It is one of many shows in the National Theatre Live series.
The house managers for Saturday’s screening were Will Eltzroth and Jaicey Bledsoe. It served an audience of around 180 people, with many more in London.
Jessica Davis Tagg, the assistant director of Events, Facilities, and Guest Services at IU Cinema commented on the significance of the screening.
“With the show ‘Fleabag’ winning so many Emmys in 2019, it seemed like the perfect time to revisit Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman show,” said Tagg.
“Fleabag” was written and performed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who also wrote the televised version for BBC as well as “Killing Eve” starring Sandra Oh. The play was directed by Vicky Jones.
As the lights focused on a single chair in the middle of the televised stage, out ran Waller-Bridge from backstage. She promptly sat on the chair, ready to begin her monologue.
The play opened with Fleabag attending a job interview, which ended poorly due to personal statements unfit for a first meeting. Quickly, viewers realized Fleabag constantly offers personal statements about her life. In fact, she established a friendship with the audience built on detailed explanations about her life.
Fleabag speaks openly and explicitly about sex, indicating throughout the play that she used it to cope with trauma. Specifically, the death of her best friend Boo, her mother’s cancer and her struggling café.
As she jumps from one anecdote to the other, Waller-Bridge’s rapid emotional changes and jumping memory sends the audience from cackling laughter one moment, and painful sorrow for Fleabag the next.
“It almost feels like a stand-up routine, but then seconds later it punches you in the gut,” said Alyssa Brooks, Events and Operations Assistant.
While Fleabag is the only physical character on stage, she describes key friends, family members, hookup partners and regulars at her guinea pig café, drawing the boundaries of her social world. She is the only testament to her character and life story, and since the play presents a single perspective, the audience is left to ask: how are we supposed to read Fleabag? Is she overconfident or masking deep insecurities? Why does she feel so alone?
For fans of the television show “Fleabag,” this play demonstrates inspiration and background for the characters in the TV series.
“It gives such insight into where she started when fleshing out the other characters for the show,” Brooks said. “You see a little more of the dark, dirty side of the character.”
The play’s climax exposes Waller-Bridge’s ability to turn a hilarious joke into a deep emotional revelation. Fleabag hooks up with a man at her café, who mistakes her pet guinea pig Hilary for a rat. As the crowd roars with laughter, the man kicks the guinea pig across the room twice, nearly killing it.
Fleabag, alone now, held the imaginary guinea pig to her chest, scratchily breathing, and crushes it to death. It scarily reminded her of her friend Boo’s accidental suicide, which she attempted after Fleabag slept with her boyfriend.
The play ended with a second interview for Fleabag, making the same mistake of discussing shortfalls in her resume to the interviewer, on a light note.
Brooks commented on the parallels between Waller-Bridge’s original play and TV show.
“Whether you’ve watched Waller-Bridge’s series or not, the play is a valuable part of the Fleabag cinematic universe,” Brooks said. “Live theatre lends so much silence and space for her to land jokes and spark our imaginations.”