Maddie Rice has been put into a difficult position with performing this script.
Fleabag still feels exciting back in the theatre, and this performance will engage you
The character known only as Fleabag is sex obsessed. Being desired by others is all-encompassing, and it's the only coping mechanism she has when all around her - her family, best friend, guinea-pig themed cafe - crumbles. She is a compelling antiheroine: charismatic, witty, and dirty, with moments of repulsive behaviour which suddenly alienate the entire room. Rice revels in the switches in Fleabag’s behaviour and manipulates audience response with natural ease. Her Fleabag is more naive than Waller-Bridge’s, and appears a character only pretending to be world-weary. But Rice has lost some of the grit, the unsettling edginess which Fleabag audiences once felt.
The script for the show is not identical to the television, of course. The prying camera, which feels so revolutionary in Fleabag on screen, is simply the intimacy of a soliloquy when live. There are no other performers, though voices from some are heard over speakers. Yet there are lines which are present in both, and feel oddly like ventriloquism in Rice’s voice. These often get the biggest laughs from the audience - they are brilliant lines - but jarringly takes us out of the world of the theatre. The most exciting moments are when the narrative differs. Then we really pay attention to Rice’s own gift for storytelling.
Fleabag is vulnerable at times, and in one particularly revealing cry says to that ‘Either everyone feels like this - a little bit - or I'm totally alone, and that's not a joke.’ We won't all find Fleabag as relatable as others will, but moments of truth come through regardless. Fleabag still feels exciting back in the theatre, and this performance will engage you whether you are a fan of the television series or have never seen it and are on the hunt for compelling female characters.