The Prickle (@ThePrickle) May 17, 2020
It’s kinda bonkers to be in a group of people right now, even if that group is a virtual one. Tonight, we find ourselves ‘at’ the Wyndham’s Theatre, watching Phoebe Waller-Bridge perform the original one-woman stage version of her multi-award winning Fleabag.
Having passed up the opportunity to see the staged show for $505 on its last day in the SoHo Playhouse New New York, £4 —that goes towards charities dedicated to supporting those affected by the Corona pandemic— seems like the best deal in town. A theatre auditorium isn’t quite the same unless you’re there in person (One Man, Two Guvnors was enough to demonstrate the weirdness of how vocal projection techniques are/n’t captured) but the parameters for a mostly-seated cast of one affords it better translation. The coy soliloquies —so effective in the TV adaptation— are absent since the majority of the play is Fleabag’s naked thoughts on life, love, lust, sex, death and guinea pigs. Other characters (some familiar, some new) are introduced through her elastic transition across a one-woman cast.
For a piece of theatre so young, it’s remarkable to acknowledge the breadth of reference points that come to mind during this taped performance. There’s the obvious comparison to the TV version that pops into the head as familiar plot points (job interview, nocturnal Obama scrolling, Boo’s tragic demise) and characters (family members, the rat-faced Lothario, drunken woman on public transport) come into focus. There’s also the thought of what it must have been like to see Fleabag ‘the play’ before it was Fleabag the TV Phenomenon. What did it feel like to not know what the jokes were? To not expect the punchlines? To see Fleabag and these characters come to life on stage at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013? To be part of the Two Brothers Pictures team that took it from stage to screen? It’s impossible to un-see these moments and it does rather take the viewer out of the immediate experience of watching the play.
In many ways (almost every way) it’s a gift to be a member of the online theatre audience for Fleabag. We go to the theatre to experience raw, blemished, visceral performances and in this moment of quarantined viewing, closed theatres and cultural distancing something is better than nothing. That said, to be a spectator of both the play, the audience and the chemistry that they have in the recorded moment, it’s impossible not to feel jealous of (and tangibly removed from) the alchemic moment. Oh, to have been in the Wyndham’s Theatre, part of a chortling crowd, pint in hand, Phoebe on stage — but at a time like this it’s meaningful that the show’s going on somewhere, somehow.
See the loud-mouthed juggernaut that inspired the BBC’s hit TV series captured by NT Live online until 31 May.