The art of Fleabag

By Allysa Olis

Allysa Olis explores Fleabag as the perfect theatrical display for our generation looking forward.

“It’ll pass.” Words that were not a part of the original iteration of the one woman show, Fleabag by Phoebe-Waller Bridge – but solidified its place in the minds of media consumers. 

The Amazon Television series, adapted from a theatre production, mimics an interpersonal relationship with the audience through consistent eye contact and fourth wall breaks. It retains a monologue-driven form similar to that of the live play, by allowing the actors to serve as physical representations of vivid thoughts and descriptions offered by Fleabag herself. The show’s deep roots in humanity, realism and wit are what drag so many individuals to the narrative. The show makes the stylistic choice of avoiding extensive visual effects, and the camera is primarily focused on characters engaged in conversation. The scenes resemble human interactions and human experiences, in all their awkwardness and difficulties. Fleabag’s consistent incorrectness in terms of her actions, perceptions of others and their intentions, as well as the blatant honesty regarding this incorrectness, makes her inherently human.

When compared with idealistic portrayals of female characters in media such as Clueless or Legally Blonde, Fleabag’s character design is rare. Younger people are often riddled with indecision, change, uncertainty, and moral struggles between good and bad; seeing this represented in a female character that seemingly should have herself sorted can be extremely reassuring. The ongoing renaissance of flawed and unreliable female narrators seen in media such as My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Gone Girl, assisted in propelling Fleabag towards success among this generation.

Despite the retention of core elements of the plot, certain storylines were deemed inappropriate for mass media and were excluded in an effort to make the main character more palpable for audiences. Phoebe Waller Bridge explained that the murder of Boo’s guinea pig and Fleabag’s sexual miscommunication with the chatty cafe member, Jo, were removed to avoid creating a character that was too morally grey to be forgiven in the format of a television series. This was a sacrifice to the character’s development, a sacrifice that was made to cater to the demographics of viewers. Even though this show is praised for its humanity, our protagonist still had limits to just how human she could be.

Phoebe-Waller Bridge told Entertainment Weekly, “The whole point of the first [season] was she had this front and this persona to the camera until this secret was revealed.” Season two could not exist without an image to counteract the show’s original premise; luckily for us, this was found in the form of the ‘sexy priest’ played by Andrew Scott. Scott, having extensive background in theatre productions such as Hamlet and Aristocrats, seamlessly fitted into the structure of the show, keeping up with its fast-paced, personal nature and relying heavily on facial expressions and longing looks to portray unspoken emotions. It was easy for the audience to fall in love with the hot priest due to Scott’s sexual magnetism, brooding nature and endless charm on stage and on camera. Of course, we have seen his talent in his previous works, including James Bond and Sherlock. Since the airing of season two, GQ reported a 162% spike in religious pornography. Meanwhile, Bridge still maintains expansion on the narrative arc from the first season.

In a memorable and beautiful moment, the priest notices Fleabag breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience. Startled when someone sees her, she realises (as do we) that she is no longer alone in this little world on our screens; there is someone sharing this theatrical space with her. This establishes a level of mutual understanding that had yet to be displayed between any characters in the show. This suggests a connection much deeper than merely romantic entanglement; a connection of souls. In a world where this is the romantic ideal, it makes the appeal of the situation all the more gut-wrenching. The romantic relationship inevitably becomes less about the actual romance itself and focuses more on knowing oneself and understanding your own purpose. Fleabag’s relationship with the camera showcased a dependence on the audience for approval, and her compulsion to explain each of her choices conveyed a constant uncertainty in herself. Her choice to wave goodbye to the camera at the end signifies a period of self-growth and understanding; she is not allowing us to judge her anymore. In contrast, the priest’s choice to continue to serve God acts in opposition to her acceptance of the unknown. He chose what we might perceive as the more secure path. Fleabag’s ending suggests she wants to explore this ambiguity, and the unfiltered parts of life. In actuality, the feelings between the two may never dissipate. However, the reliance and entanglement does, taking the character in a fully self-sufficient direction for the first time. This leaves the audience with no right or wrong answer to the ending; the choice serves the knowledge of the self.Phoebe Waller-Bridge explained on Late Night with Seth Meyers that she is uncertain about whether or not she would like to revisit the character or if her narrative has completely concluded. She alluded to a potential re-evaluation around the age of 50 to see if an unseen self will be present on the other side of the camera’s lens. This is undoubtedly an intelligent, relatable and moving piece of theatrical talent.


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