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Fleabag review at Soho Playhouse, New York – ‘Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s caustic and darkly funny solo show’

Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag, Soho Playhouse, New York Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag, Soho Playhouse, New York

Nothing has dulled Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s sharp-edged, caustic, comedic solo show, Fleabag, since it premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013. What has changed since then is a greater international appreciation for Waller-Bridge’s work, her unique voice, and this character. Fleabag has also been adapted and expanded into a successful television show that is currently in its second series.

Making her Off-Broadway debut, as playwright and star, Waller-Bridge continues to offer a complicated portrait of the sex-obsessed, desperately sad, human-cry-for-help character she portrays.

At times, the darker, contemplative corners of the play can get lost in the rip-roaring crowd reaction. The eager New York audience lets slip a few anticipatory laughs at jokes also used in the TV show. Some sound design gets buried in the audience cacophony.

Yet, intentional ellipses are there in the writing and performance. When Waller-Bridge trails off at “When your heart is…” her complex heartbreak is apparent even if the source is only later revealed. Eventually, Waller-Bridge’s writing extracts the quiet attention and gasps she seeks.

Beyond precise quick change accents and postures to portray an array of characters
(including a blasé guinea pig casually grooving to music), Waller-Bridge’s performance is intimate and layered.

Fleabag intends to tease her sister. Without a word Waller-Bridge winds up three or four times to do so. Like a plane attempting a difficult landing, re-approaching from different angles, with each abortive pass at sisterly needling we glean just a little more about this sibling dynamic and Fleabag’s confusing blend of love, sarcasm and wanting from Waller-Bridge’s expressive looks.

Fleabag’s Vicky Jones: ‘After #MeToo, I feel people are more ready to talk about my debut play The One’

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Belly laughs and agonising wounds blend in twisted harmony in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s New York debut