The Sunday Times: Phoebe Waller-Bridge on Fleabag, feminism and female sexuality

A generation of young writers are redefining the way female sexuality is portrayed. The creators of the hit show tell Katie Glass what happens when feminism and porn culture collide.

In a boho restaurant in a hipster enclave of west London, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Vicky Jones and Amy Morgan are sitting on mismatched furniture, quaffing champagne and debating whether to order the duck profiteroles. “I don’t want to pressure anyone — but I definitely want them,” Waller-Bridge grins. I’d suggested we keep this meeting casual and low-key. By the time the photoshoot ends we’re three bottles in.

Superficially, Waller-Bridge is everything you’d expect if you have watched Fleabag, the darkly comic BBC show she wrote and starred in, and which she originally co-created as a stage play with Jones. Waller-Bridge played the eponymous Fleabag, a glamorously shambolic twentysomething woman chaotically negotiating modern London life. It screened on BBC3 last summer, then BBC2 in the autumn, while Amazon aired it in the US. Last month, Waller-Bridge picked up a Bafta for the role.

Like Lena Dunham’s Girls before it — and Sex and the City and Bridget Jones before that — Fleabag’s appeal lay in how it reflected the experiences of a generation of young women, as we watch Fleabag ricochet between one-night stands, breakdowns, feminist retreat centres and her stepmother’s penis sculpture exhibition. Most of all, though, Fleabag’s genius was in reflecting a contemporary shift in the way many young women talk and think about sex. Joining a new wave of outrageous and explicitly honest women, such as the comedian Amy Schumer (who wrote Trainwreck), Taylor Schilling (Orange Is the New Black), Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), and Dunham.

“We loved Girls,” Waller-Bridge says.“It was such a huge defining moment for people talking about women’s experiences truthfully. It had a huge impact on us.”

Today we’re meeting to discuss Touch, a play Waller-Bridge and Jones are producing through their theatre company DryWrite. Jones wrote it. Morgan — best known for appearing in ITV’s Edwardian drama Mr Selfridge — will play the lead.

They are still working on the script, but their excitement about working together is palpable. Hanging out with them feels like having a sleepover with three girly mates. They shout over each other as they debate feminism, the pros and cons of dating apps and crack jokes about porn.

Thrillingly, Jones and Waller-Bridge’s friendship seems rather similar to that of Fleabag and Boo, her best friend in the show. Waller-Bridge shares Fleabag’s naughty cackle and dishevelled elegance — and of course her vintage pin-up looks. Jones, like Boo, is blonde, gentler, softer, calmer.

“The things that happen in the show never happened to us, but they were hugely inspired by our relationship,” Waller-Bridge explains. “There were lines that I stole verbatim from things Vicky said in real life.”

Jones and Waller-Bridge have known each other for more than a decade since Jones (a Birmingham University politics graduate) was fired from directing a play that Waller-Bridge was starring in. Waller-Bridge walked out in solidarity. They spent their twenties on nights out, sleeping around, crashing back home, debating the issues that trouble modern women, such as, “I’d just like my tits to be that much bigger, does that make me a terrible feminist?” — as Waller-Bridge says, gesturing at her breasts.


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