How did the first person to watch Phoebe Waller-Bridge perform Fleabag feel; confused, enlightened, so profoundly altered they could barely put words to it? Jodie Irvine’s original play is an unforgettable series of lightning bulb moments and key insights into the human condition. Everyone has experienced at least a sliver of what this young woman is going through—wanting some attention, caring too much about what other people think, having weird thoughts that sometimes spill over. What better way to explore those topics than in the guise of a chatty character who can’t help sharing everything she feels?
Irvine proves she is both an exceptional writer and natural-born performer, neatly packaged in an emerald jumpsuit.
Through Gobby, Irvine proves she is both an exceptional writer and natural-born performer, neatly packaged in an emerald jumpsuit. Most theatrical performances involve a certain suspension of belief—that is not required here. Irvine is completely believable and genuine in her portrayal of Bri (like the cheese), a young woman lashing out at the people in her life who didn’t notice she was drowning, and her script is chock full of witty anecdotes and penetrating observations about human nature that indicate an underlying wisdom far beyond her years.
Through five parties, Bri rediscovers her voice and learns to find the balance between speaking up for herself and taking the time to listen. Irvine is magnetic. She flits from monologue, to narration, to conversation—playing each and every character—back to introspective examination, and beyond. In between her awkward conversations with other party guests and inner monologue, Bri is just a young woman who feels profoundly changed and doesn’t know who to blame, or how to get back to who she was before.
Various party props are scattered across the stage, but they’re not just there for decoration. Cone hats become cocktail shakers, balloons become pizza dough, and party horns become a moustache. Part of the fun of Gobby is seeing how the creative team will use these items in the next scene. Poppers mark the beginning of each new party and are used as stand-ins for those kind of frustrating interactions that need a little gunpowder.
Fitting about two years of dramatic life changes into one hour is no easy feat. When we first meet Bri she is a victim of circumstance. By the time we leave, she is back behind the wheel. Irvine’s mixture of observational humour, impersonations and rapid speech carry us along while each act brings noticeable changes in her character. She is growing and evolving, as we all do throughout the course of our lives. We could use the caterpillar metamorphosis analogy, but she very particularly said she didn’t want to be compared to a butterfly.
There is a lot of talent at the Fringe, but Jodie Irvine is one of a kind. Go see Gobby during its limited run, and we can all pat ourselves on the back in a few years time when its star receives her inevitable Olivier award.