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Phoebe Waller-Bridge, currently cropping up in the second series of ITV’s increasingly unhinged Broadchurch, became something of a sleeper hit at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe as her lurid, porn-fixated creation, Fleabag, added a uniquely squalid perspective to notions of modern feminism.

A clutch of awards and a deserved national tour, which arrives in Bristol tonight, followed. Waller-Bridge, who gave such good knockabout sleazeball fun in Edinburgh, has been replaced by the equally luminous Maddie Rice in the lead and only role, but the play loses none of its giddy charm as Rice unpacks Fleabag’s life with fresh-faced glee and unabashed straight-talking. It’s a mighty feat. Rice barely leaves her centre stage stool for 75 minutes and rattles through her musings with scarcely a pause for breath.

In between the loopy Fleabagisms, Elliot Griggs’ compact array of modest lighting states take us from flat to cafe to the London underground with the minimum of fuss, and Isobel Waller-Bridge’s sound design always foregrounds, not overwhelms, the story. This is a piece to be read and heard and is far more impactful for it.

Waller-Bridge’s script doesn’t always convince, however – the signposted darker turns towards the end lack their intended bite – but there’s undoubted skill at work. Waller-Bridge possesses a finely tuned ear for everyday dialogue and an anecdote about a boozy bathroom mishap evidences a deliciously absurdist comic lurking beneath.

A stand-out fringe delicacy, then, that just lacks that bit of substance out on the road.

Verdict: The 2013 Edinburgh Fringe hit continues its sordid path

Joe Spurgeon

  • The Brewery Theatre, Bristol
  • January 20-February 7, then touring until March 7
  • Author: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
  • Director: Vicky Jones
  • Design: Holly Pigott set, Elliot Griggs lighting, Isobel Waller-Bridge sound, music
  • Technical: Charlotte McBrearty stage manager
  • Cast: Maddie Rice
  • Producers: Francesca Moody DryWrite, David Luff Soho Theatre
  • Running time: 1hr 15mins

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The Stage
The Stage is a British weekly newspaper and website covering the entertainment industry, and particularly theatre. It was founded in 1880. It contains news, reviews, opinion, features, and recruitment advertising.