AN HOUR OF SHOCKING BRILLIANCE AND ARTISAN OBSCENITY
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s extraordinary self-written monologue performance won awards in Edinburgh, the Offies, The Stage and the Critics’ Circle – and an Olivier nomination. To my chagrin I missed its previous run, and have been longing to see what got described as “sucker-punch funny…jaw-droppingly filthy..” etc.
Having caught the show, I would urge anyone to do the same. It could hardly come at a better moment. Not just because she is crackingly funny – for she often is – or because the character she creates is idiosyncratic: as one promotion coyly says “some sort of a female living her sort of life”, an erratically high-sexed and cynical Bridget Jones for the new century, a failing middle-class cafe owner with a life in chaos. No: the brilliance of the piece is in making it impossible, even during the most hilarious moments of over-sharing (that bloody handprint ..those anal musings..) not to contemplate the bleak sad reality of a human being adrift, in a culture gradually poisoned by unhappy, addictive sexualization.
The narrator is an obsessive porn user (“anal. gang bang. mature. asian. teen. milf. facial. fetish.rough..” etc) – as well as being pretty undiscriminating in her real-life encounters, not bothering even with partners’ names most of the time beyond “Tube-rodent” or “Arsehole man” . The deadening, eroding addictiveness of porn is a modern brow-furrowing issue, and so is the objectification of women as sexual playthings. But such is the anxiety about the effect on boys that we are rarely made to consider female obsessions with porn: women internalizing and adopting the role of objects, determined to enjoy it without affection, indeed using their bodies as shields, fearing intimacy, wanting only to be wanted in that one way.
Here we have just that: but the story is being told by a likeable, intelligent, educated, funny creature. She could have a decent life, but her life and relationships have been punctured by herself, in the cause of frantic, endless banging and wanking. Between laughs we learn of a family alienated, a business ruined, a best friend grievously betrayed to her very death. A horror.
There is a harrowing reveal in the penultimate moments, and a shaft of hope from an unexpected- male – direction referring us on to another alleyway of oversexualized cultural misery. And yet t’s very funny. It is a revealing, brilliant , sorrowful human comedy. I am glad it won all those awards. Here’s another. Though given what happens to the hamster in the story, it feels unwise to entrust Fleabag with so many helpless mice…
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