A woman sits on an empty stage, looks us straight in the eyes and talks about grief, sex, guinea pigs and fucking everything, and everyone, up.
Her name is Fleabag. She is 26, her best friend is dead, her mother succumbed to cancer two years ago, and the family she has left are turning their backs.
The guinea pig-themed cafe she runs is attracting barely a customer, her boyfriend has left her, and she just, accidentally, took her top off in a bank loan interview.
Fleabag is an hour-long monologue performed by UK actor Maddie Rice on a bare set with minimal sound and lighting effects.
It is shaped as Fleabag’s recollections of the past three days, full of provocative asides and scorching, excoriating observations of herself and others as she reveals a life unravelled by betrayal, loss and a fear of kindness.
Amid rich impersonations and troubling dependencies, we slowly realise the awful, heart-breaking truth behind Fleabag’s whip-smart mouthy bravado.
She is breaking apart and all the porn, wine, wit and casual sex in the world can’t put her back together again.
First presented at the Edinburgh Fringe five years ago, Fleabag is written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and directed by Vicki Jones, the founding members of UK theatre company DryWrite.
Waller-Bridge originally wrote the monologue in a hurry, filling a gap in a theatre season of new writing and her speed might be why this monologue feels so fresh and unfettered.
She originally performed the piece herself, going on to adapt it for a major BAFTA Award-winning TV series. Anyone who has seen the TV series will find it intriguing to see Rice in a role so connected to Waller-Bridge.
Hand-picked by Jones and Waller-Bridge, she quickly and deftly makes Fleabag her own. Rice easily captures the character’s finely-strung imbalance of running from, and searching for, intimacy while wisecracking her troubles away.
She steadily draws us in while steadily exposing the layers of a demolished heart.
The other star here is Waller-Bridge’s writing, her honest, unsparing and searingly funny words. Whether describing the tiny rodent mouth of a one-night stand, the awkward but essential vagaries of vagina selfies or the fabulous breasts of her loved and late mother, the script sings.