11 April 2019, The Tablet

Knife-edge of desire

Knife-edge of desire

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, aka Fleabag
Photo: Luke Varley



How to describe BBC3’s Fleabag? Is it a comedy? Tragedy? Tragi-comic? Comi-tragic? Comedy (or tragedy) of embarrassment; or is it merely all-round cringe-fest? Metropolitan, middle-class family drama with a top layer of hilarious social observation and a subtext of crushing desolation? The picaresque adventures of an enchanting but flawed heroine whose eye-popping appetite for sexual experimentation conceals emotions too terrible to confront?

Fleabag is all the above and more. No wonder everyone is talking about it. All my female friends adore it; men of my acquaintance, I’ve noticed, approach the subject slightly nervously, as if they are not quite sure what, in these eggshell times, they should be making of it. Without wanting to wax too pompous (Fleabag-style mock panicky eye roll to camera), it probes some particularly modern anxieties and finds a deep and timeless truth beneath them (sarcastic apostrophes finger waggle).

So, for the uninitiated, Fleabag is the eponymous heroine – whose real name remains unrevealed. She is played by the astonishingly brilliant Phoebe Waller-Bridge who also created and wrote the series. In her thirties (or so), Fleabag has a guinea pig-themed café in some fashionable bit of north London.

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