Monday, May 06, 2019

Romantic ideal

The fact that a show that started life as a ten-minute slot at a storytelling night has now sold out a 30-date run at London's Wyndham Theatre in just an hour is testimony to the astonishing success of Fleabag - and the stratospheric ascendance of its creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Rarely does something reap all the popularity and accolades it deserves, but this is a happy exception. In an interview with the Guardian's Simon Hattonstone last year, she claimed that she simply writes about "what I'd like to watch"; it turns out that millions of other people share her vision.

Last week, while all of Twitter was ablaze with excited chatter about Game Of Thrones, we belatedly devoured the six episodes of the second and final TV series. I raved about the first but struggled to see how Waller-Bridge could follow it up - but follow it up she did, and with something that you can only really speak about it in superlatives.

"I have an appetite for transgressive women", she told Hattenstone - and Fleabag certainly continued to fit that description. Married men and even her best friend's boyfriend hadn't proven off-limits - but would a priest (played by Andrew Scott)? Much of the drama of the series was inevitably generated by the crackling will-they-won't-they tension between the pair. Arguably more important, however, was the dynamic with older sister Claire (Sian Clifford), while Fleabag's relationship with her father (Bill Paterson), whose imminent marriage to Olivia Coleman's smilingly wicked stepmother drove the narrative, was also prominent.

It was her dad (rather than either the priest or her therapist) who, in a moment of uncharacteristic articulacy, pinpointed the nature of Fleabag's "problem": "I think you know how to love better than any of us. That's why you find it all so painful." Underneath that brash, buoyant exterior, she's a romantic, always wanting what she can't (or shouldn't) have, wrestling with her own anxieties and uncertain sense of self. Waller-Bridge's admission "I love pain" helps to explain Fleabag's masochistic romantic urges - and perhaps suggests that the character has plenty of her creator in her.

This is not to imply that the second series wasn't laugh-out-loud hilarious; on the contrary, it very often was, not least thanks to an amazing cast of characters (Claire's slimy alcoholic husband Martin and the aforementioned stepmother, in particular) and Waller-Bridge's knack for writing razor-sharp dialogue, including Fleabag's retorts straight to camera for the benefit of the viewer (Claire: "Putting pine nuts on a salad doesn't make you an adult." Fleabag: "Fucking does."). Her unplanned outburst at the Quaker meeting and the priest's phobia of foxes both had us howling.

Clifford has already revealed that there will be no third series, and Waller-Bridge has taken a step back for the second series of Killing Eve - but it won't be too long before we get to enjoy her work again: she's been brought in to "liven up" the new Bond movie at the request of star Daniel Craig. It's the sort of opportunity that not long ago she could only dream of - but it's one that she richly deserves.

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