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'Fleabag’ speaks to audiences at IU Cinema (literally)

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IU Cinema screened one woman show “Fleabag” at 7 p.m. Wednesday at its Seventh Street theater.  

The show was originally filmed during a 2019 live performance at the National Theatre in London. Written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, BBC developed the monologue performance into a 2016 television series, which went on to win multiple Emmy awards and accumulate a massive fan base.  

Michaela Owens, IU Cinema communications specialist, said the screening was completely sold-out by Wednesday afternoon.  

“In the past couple of years, people have found the TV show and fallen in love with it,” she said. 

Some guests were young women wearing Fleabag TV show merch. Others were older fans of Waller-Bridge. Throughout the screening, plenty of viewers whispered to their friends, comparing and contrasting bits from the show and the play. 

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“Fleabag” isn’t for the faint of heart. The gritty, raunchy show follows a young woman living in London struggling through waves of grief after the accidental (but kind of on purpose) death of her best friend. She’s also dealing with an arguable sex obsession and a wildly dysfunctional family. Plus, her guinea pig-themed café is financially flailing.  

The screening began with Waller-Bridge walking across the dark, bare National Theatre stage before settling on a lone chair. Then she kicks off her monologue – joking about sexual harassment, death and womanhood within the first ten minutes of the show.  

Some members of the audience in Bloomington said the experience made them feel as though they themselves were at the theater in London, despite being separated by years and miles.  

“At some point you forget that you’re watching a film screen,” audience member Arlyn Llewellyn said. “You’re actually watching a live stage production. That was really cool.”  

During parts of the screening, the studio audience and the live viewers blended together. The auditorium laughed at the same time Waller-Bridge's audience did or grew silent during the same solemn parts. While “Fleabag” is wildly unserious at times, it’s also full of tender moments. The entire auditorium earnestly gasped in unison as Waller-Bridge monologed about her fictional guinea pig being injured.  

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Waller-Bridge, as Fleabag, monologued about her late best friend, Boo, as well.  

“She was tricky,” Waller-Bridge said. “Jealous and sensitive, but beautiful.”  

Some audience members noted the screening was more intimate and darker than the television series.  

Llewellyn said she was enraptured by Waller-Bridge's performance. Being a one woman show, the actress had to capture every character and convey each plot point by herself, using an array of impressions, voices and physical comedy.  

IU junior AnaBella Stegmaier wore a sweatshirt with a still from the TV series printed on the front. She said she’s a huge fan of the show – both the play and the BBC version – because of the way it portrays womanhood.  

“(Fleabag) embodies being a woman in a way that's taboo,” Stegmaier said.  “Because you don't see a lot of sex-driven (women) characters in media a lot without a sense of shame tied to it.”  

 The relatable, unfiltered nature of the show made audience members feel a natural connection to the character, Stegmaier said.  

“I feel like she's talking to me,” Stegmaier said. “Which, the whole premise of ‘Fleabag’ is that you are a part of the show.”  

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