'Fleabag: The Scriptures', by Phoebe Waller-Bridge - Review

By Eyre, Hermione | The Spectator, January 11, 2020 | Go to article overview

'Fleabag: The Scriptures', by Phoebe Waller-Bridge - Review


Eyre, Hermione, The Spectator


Why would you need the scripts for Fleabag? It’s hardly a lost classic. It’s always popping up on BBC iPlayer. So it was with a touch of scepticism that I picked up this volume, subtitled not ‘The Scripts’ but ‘The Scriptures’, in reference to Fleabag’s long, pitiless pursuit of a hot priest in Series 2, and beautifully presented: sombre hardcover without, shocking-pink end-papers within. Clever — there’s already something of the spliced rhythm of the series in the design. But the pink band wrapper made it look too much like a present: was this just a commercial attempt at cramming that scabrous lost soul, transgressive cultural heroine and all round dirtbag into a giftable item?

Then I read it. Bliss. These scripts are written with such precise technical skill that it is a pleasure and an education to see their workings. Particularly their economy, from the brutal minor character names (‘Needy Waitress’) to inverted commas in the directions (‘Claire and Fleabag “laugh’’’). It’s a fun exercise to overlay in your mind the sound, the rhythm of the edit and the performances as you read these scripts, highly controlled as they are, with many two-second flashbacks dropped in, i.e. ‘Boo is standing on the edge of the pavement, traffic speeding past’. Occasional mumblings can be deciphered, script in hand, and ad-libs that aren’t in the script identified. And motifs noticed: Boo, as well as the name of Fleabag’s dead best friend, is Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s avowed favourite approach. Surprise ’em. And Boo! is, after all, what ghosts are supposed to say.

It’s also good to study the moments of genius, such as when the priest, falling in love with Fleabag, breaks the fourth — or should that be fifth? — wall and notices, actually notices, Fleabag making an aside to camera. ‘What was that? Where did… where did you just go?’ It’s as potent as the Tristan chord. And yet it looks like nothing on the page, its effectiveness created by two series’ worth of to-camera asides.

If you feel it’s impossible to imagine anyone but Olivia Colman playing the ghastly godmother, that’s probably because Waller-Bridge wrote it specifically for her, striking while the iron was red-hot, directly after Colman turned up at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe show of Fleabag and pledged allegiance. …

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