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The Comic Abyss

I was invited to the live screening of Phoebe Waller-Bridges’ one woman show, ‘Fleabag’ (loosely based on her series). I knew nothing of Waller-Bridges, except that she wrote the brilliant script for the first series of ‘Killing Eve’. So I knew she could write…. I kept telling myself this through the virtual monologue, delivered in the first person, apart from a man’s voice at the beginning and end. I kept telling myself, through all the jokes about sexual congress, all the jokes about sexual proclivities, all the jokes about casual sex and even more casual relationships, all the face pulling and meaningful silences, all the jokes about drunken behaviour. I smiled several times, once when she said that a man behind her at a bar grabbed her vagina, but he bought her a drink afterwards so it was ok, yes I know it’s sexist but it was very funny, the punch line was delivered with wit and an endearing smirk…..and wit always makes me laugh. I felt it was a pity there wasn’t more sparkling wit and less fairly predictable material. I know from ‘Killing Eve’ that Waller-Bridges is incredibly witty and makes us jump with lines we didn’t see coming, hence my disappointment.
Threaded amongst all the sexual shenanigans we were introduced to Hilary the guinea pig. We were drawn an exquisite verbal picture of her, from her lively character to the bad-ass crest of fur on her forehead which edgily drooped forward. Waller-Bridges’ description made me want to keep guinea pigs all over again. Sadly, the story of Hilary ended badly and I really hoped that wasn’t drawn from life. I was at one with the audience, as we all gave a thought to poor Hilary.
But, on the whole it was clearly me who was out of sync, both the audience which could be heard on the screen and the audience in the cinema were laughing uproariously. A couple in front of me guffawed every few minutes. The girl behind me even stopped banging the back of my seat with her long legs. I saw one woman so engrossed, she put her popcorn down. Redruth Cinema had devoted three screens to ‘Fleabag’, and filled two and a half. I have never seen the cinema at Redruth so busy. We’d tried to get in at Newlyn, but were told it had been booked for weeks – see, it’s definitely me.
I admit, I’m not a great lover of female comedians; they used to be known as comediennes, which I thought was rather charming, it has a more melodious ring, it sashays. With some exceptions, the lamented Victoria Wood, Julia Walters, Jennifer Saunders, to name a few, I find them strident and usually with an axe to grind, an axe that grinds slowly and dully, in my opinion. Men, I find are more all round comedy creatures.
Apparently Waller-Bridges’ show took The Edinburgh Festival by storm. One line which puzzled me, and which did not get a big laugh, was, having referred to her best friend’s accidental suicide, (best friend’s partner had confessed to having had sex with someone else, she wanted to end up in hospital to make him feel guilty, alas, she botched it and died) all through the show, ultimately she confesses that it was she who had sex with her best friend’s partner. She faces the audience, and says, earnestly, ‘but he wanted me, he wanted me’.
I wasn’t sure what the response should be, were we to laugh at her naivety, were we to find it funny that she had betrayed her friend?
Maybe, as a taxi driver for several years, I have seen too much of the underbelly of life. I am reminded of Nietzsche’s words, ‘When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.’
Later, I caught a little of the series ‘Fleabag’ on Youtube and it’s better, partly because as a sitcom it has some very fine actors portraying the characters.
Yet, with me she still grates, and I’m not sure whether it’s her or her character or just me.

Lynda Green

Volume 34 no.2 November/December 2019 pp 27-28

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