×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Off Broadway Review: Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ‘Fleabag’

TV's “Fleabag” comes to the States, up close and personal, in the bracing stage work that introduced the shocking, surprising comic character — and its star.

With:
Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

1 hour 5 minutes

Watching Phoebe Waller-Bridge, as the lead character of “Fleabag,” trying to resist saying something bitingly perceptive, inappropriately funny and completely unexpected is a study of comic expansiveness. And when she can’t contain herself a second longer, she lets loose with a zinger that spares no one — not even, and perhaps especially, herself.

“Is that a joke?” a potentially offended man asks her after she says something wildly disturbing.

After a moment of deep consideration, she responds sincerely, “I don’t know.” And though audiences will laugh uproariously, they may not be so sure either.

In this sharply-told nugget of a play, this unfiltered, sexually obsessed and profane character brilliantly reveals the thin divide between the comedy of lashing out and self-deprecation — and the pain, sadness and introspection that hide within.

Waller-Bridge’s breakout solo show first bowed in Edinburgh in 2013 before playing London and touring, and then became the inspiration for the popular BBC/Amazon Prime series, now in its second season. To judge by the audience’s enthusiastic reception at the hot-ticket Off Broadway run of the stage version, “Fleabag” and Waller-Bridge are equally popular Stateside. (Just to show her range is wide, Waller-Bridge also created the psychosexual spy thriller “Killing Eve.”.)

At first, the play and the character evoke the comic brashness and sexual liberation of Lena Dunham’s “Girls.” But Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag has an allure and likability even when she says such terrible — and probably very true — things about her family, her lovers and, of course, herself.

In the TV series Fleabag addresses the camera directly, but there’s an even deeper intimacy in this barebones stage show. Here it feels more like a confessional, albeit one in which she is trying to charm, seduce and shock the listener all at once with her bad-girl tales. Seated front and center — and sometimes reacting to the voices of several recorded characters — she simply tells the story of her current, desperate existence, with nervy humor and just a glint of vulnerability to make us think twice.

Boo, her friend and partner in the coffee house they own, was recently killed sort-of accidentally and now Fleabag — the odd moniker isn’t explained other than its general meaning of unpleasantness — needs money to keep the cafe open.

She hopes to get it from a banker but the interview goes quickly south, and then she tries to get it from her high-powered exec of a sister, with whom she has a strained relationship. Her father is even more removed from her life.

Adding to her feigned nonchalance is the news that boyfriend Harry left her yet again. There are several other encounters with men she picks up — and inevitably drops — but not before revealing some juicy sexual details, physical imperfections and personality quirks.

But scathing comments are just Fleabag’s way of dealing with trauma and a host of other issues. While laughs are plentiful, loneliness, disappointment and death are there, too.

Off Broadway Review: Phoebe Waller-Bridge's 'Fleabag'

Soho Theater, 178 seats; $125 top. Opened March 7, 2019; reviewed March 6. Running time: ONE HOUR, 5 MIN.

Production: Annapurna Theater, Megan Ellison, Sue Naegle, Skye Optican, Kevin Emrick, David Luff & Patrick Myles, Barbara Broccoli, Patrick Catullo, Diana Dimenna, Daryl Roth, Eric Schnall, Jayne Baron Sherman, DryWrite and Soho Theater presentation of a play in one act by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Creative: Directed by Vicky Jones; set, Holly Pigott; lighting, Elliot Griggs; sound and composer, Isobel Waller-Bridge; production stage manager, Charlotte McBrearty.

Cast: Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

More Legit

  • Alexander Dinelaris

    'Jekyll and Hyde' Movie in the Works Based on Broadway Musical

    The Broadway musical “Jekyll and Hyde” is getting the movie treatment from Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris. Dinelaris, who is writing and producing the adaptation, won an Oscar for the “Birdman” script and was a co-producer on “The Revenant.” He is producing “Jekyll and Hyde” as the first project under his New York-based development company, [...]

  • Sam Mendes

    Listen: The 'Balls-Out Theatricality' of Sam Mendes

    If you find yourself directing a Broadway play with a cast so big it includes a goose, two rabbits, more kids than you can count and an actual infant, what do you do? If you’re Sam Mendes, you embrace the “balls-out theatricality” of it all. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “There is a kind [...]

  • James Corden Tony Awards

    James Corden to Host 2019 Tony Awards (EXCLUSIVE)

    James Corden has been tapped to once again host the Tony Awards, Variety has learned exclusively. “The Late Late Show” host previously emceed the annual theater awards show in 2016, and won the Tony for best actor in a play for his performance in “One Man, Two Guvnors” in 2012. “I’m thrilled to be returning to [...]

  • Frozen review Broadway

    ‘Frozen’ the Musical Opening in London in 2020

    “Frozen” the musical is coming to London and will open in the West End in fall 2020. The Michael Grandage-directed Disney Theatrical Productions stage show has been on Broadway for a year. Grandage’s production is now set to re-open Andrew Lloyd Webber’s refurbished Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez are behind the [...]

  • Nantucket Sleigh Ride review

    Off Broadway Review: John Guare's 'Nantucket Sleigh Ride'

    Anyone who doesn’t have a cottage on the Cape or the Islands, as they say in Massachusetts, might be puzzled by the title of John Guare’s new play.  “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” is no Revere Beach amusement park ride, but an old whaling term for the death throes of a whale that is still attached to [...]

  • Kiss Me Kate review

    Broadway Review: 'Kiss Me, Kate'

    No, Kate doesn’t get spanked. And for those wondering how the dicey ending of “Kiss Me, Kate” — that musical mashup of “The Taming of the Shrew” and backstage battling exes — would come across in these more sensitive times, well, that’s also been reconsidered for the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Broadway revival of the Cole [...]

  • Betrayal review Tom Hiddleston

    West End Review: Tom Hiddleston in 'Betrayal'

    It takes three to tango, and Jamie Lloyd’s “Betrayal” completely grasps that. Having made it his mission to modernize the way we stage Harold Pinter’s plays, his chic, stripped-down staging starring Tom Hiddleston as a cuckolded husband might be his best attempt yet. Pared back and played out on an empty stage, this masterful play [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content