Phoebe Waller-Bridge is more than the laureate of angst
The writer and actress speaks powerfully, and universally.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge has secured her position as the laureate of millennial nihilism with a triumphant delivery of her virtuoso one-woman show Fleabag in the West End.
The character’s neurotic negotiation of modern life was for many fans of the TV series a welcome parallel to their own generational struggles.
Fleabag acts as an avatar for the myriad insecurities of a partially lost generation.
Intelligent but erratic, humorous but afflicted, she pithily delivers unbeautified truths from the life of a 21st century woman.
But the star-studded crowd who roared in adulation as they delivered a standing ovation at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre were not cast-off victims of social media and the housing crisis.
Middle-aged grandees cackled with laughter, and the undoubtedly successful – Oscar-winner Rami Malek, for example – still saw themselves enough in Waller-Bridge’s rhapsody to imperfection to applaud enthusiastically at the final curtain.
This is perhaps because, more than the TV series, the stage offers space and silence for pathos to echo in, and for jokes to be dragged out into taut comic tension.
Waller-Bridge is a master writer and, on screen, delivers a performance that moves from the hilarious to the poignant.
But on the stage she sits atop the modest chair that comprises the set like a queen of comedy.
Delivering a manner of monologue – she does many voices, and there is disembodied dialogue at certain moments – Waller-Bridge shows herself to be skilled at story, deadpan comedy and one-liners.
The repertoire is as complete as any vaudevillian.
Added to this is a stunning ability to mime and do impressions which sets the stage show apart from the restrictions of a TV show, where her sudden comic personifications become scenes and other characters, actors with faces of their own.
Many of her co-stars were in the London crowd to watch her perform the piece, which holds familiar material for fans of the series, with much of the show worked into the first episode of the BBC hit.
But in the intimate atmosphere of the auditorium, the emotional wizardry of Waller-Bridge can be truly felt.
She weaves her comedy with interludes of tantalising pathos, building into a crescendo where jokes merely intersperse the sorrow of Fleabag’s story, and makes the audience feel between the laughter.
While she is set for James Bond and the bright lights of Hollywood, Waller-Bridge’s talents would be missed on the stage, where she has proven herself of universal appeal to those who recognise the tragicomic chaos of life.