In the space of half a decade, the universe occupied by Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s creation, 'Fleabag', has steadily evolved and expanded; what began in 2013 as a one-woman play, a confessional monologue, has since morphed into a BAFTA-winning TV series.
With Phoebe frantically jetting between 'Star Wars' sets in Hollywood and 'Fleabag' season two shoots in London, the theatrical incarnation of the colourful single Londoner has since been entrusted to British actress, Maddie Rice. While Maddie was initially intimidated by the inevitable expectations that come with taking such a famous and coveted role, she had immense faith in the strength of the source material.
“It feels like the character is such an amazing person and so well-written that the baton can be passed on. Of course, it was very daunting because what an amazing act to follow but at the same time it’s a huge privilege because Phoebe has been really present, as has Vicki Jones, who directed it originally. And they’ve been really encouraging about me making it my own and finding moments in it that I can make slightly different.”
“There’s so much to find in the text and it’s such an exciting character because she’s really flawed and she’s so funny but she’s sad; she’s full of contradictions and I think that’s what any really good character is.”
While the bold and brazen humour of the show has undoubtedly been a major contributor to the its success, it was the heart hidden beneath the laughs that initially inspired Maddie. Phoebe’s writing is like the childhood vaccination process in reverse: first you get the lollypop, then you get the needle.
“Essentially what Phoebe does as a writer is she makes you laugh at something because you recognise it or it’s rude or it’s shocking, but then immediately afterwards she tells you something that’s true and very sad and you’re almost quite vulnerable to it because you’re so open and you’re so with the character. You know, if someone’s really made you laugh and then they stab you afterwards, then you really listen I think.”
Maddie believes that shows like 'Fleabag', much like Lena Dunham’s 'Girls', play an important role in shattering gender taboos.
“Often the parts that I play and the things that I see on the TV and the stage, the female characters tend to be quite reserved about sex. I think a lot of it is about embarrassment and characters like Fleabag break the mould because you watch her and you think 'oh my God this is so shocking', but actually if there was a man on stage talking frankly about sex, it wouldn’t be shocking and I think that makes you think about 'why is that?'”
There has been a global shift in gender politics since Maddie last played the role in Edinburgh. She is excited to see how Australian audiences react in the wake of the #metoo phenomena.
“It’s really interesting for me now doing it after all this #metoo movement, because I did it in 2015, and actually it’s amazing how much it’s changed in the last two years and how vocal people are being. It’s quite shocking how embarrassing women find speaking frankly about sex.”
Fleabag Tour Dates
8-10 February – Brisbane Powerhouse
27 February-18 March – The Box at The Garden of Unearthly Delights (Adelaide Fringe)
13-24 February – The Main Space at The Blue Room Theatre (Fringe World Perth)