Earlier this year Theatr Clwyd announced a Welsh adaptation of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s award-winning comedic play Fleabag. The show has been adapted by acclaimed Welsh writer Branwen Davies and will tour around Wales before its final performances at Theatr Clwyd.
We sat down with Branwen to find out more about adapting the show:
This is such an exciting project. What made you want to be part of it?
It is! I'm a huge fan of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's writing - the brilliant female characters she creates and the way she plays with the audience - shocking and delighting them in turn. Her use of dark humour is unique and intoxicating and I was itching to see how that would translate into Welsh. When I initially saw the original stage play in 2013, I’d never seen anything like it. It's a multi-layered rollercoaster that really gets under your skin.
For people who might not know the story, give us a brief overview?
I'm sure most people are familiar with the TV adaptation that followed the original stage play. Fleabag is on the cusp of turning thirty and doesn't have much to show for it. She works in a guinea pig themed cafe that she used to run with her best friend Boo but can't afford to run anymore. Grief and guilt and a wild self destruction streak has her careering towards rock bottom. The play is a gradual piecing together, one gag and a dodgy sexual encounter at a time the whirlwind that has led her to be sat in the interview from hell to save her own skin where the play opens.
Your adaption has been re-set in north Wales and Liverpool and adapted into Welsh. How do you go about doing this?
I was challenged to come up with a concept that could tell Fleabag’s story from a Welsh gaze without being a word for word translation but also not to change the content! Fleabag is originally set in London. I'm originally from Ynys Mon and always considered Liverpool as the capital city of North Wales! I decided that my version of Fleabag was born and raised in Bangor to a Welsh mother and Scouse father and escaped to Liverpool University to reinvent herself as soon as she could to live a carefree and raucous life without feeling hemmed in. Realistically I think most of us live a bi-lingual life in Wales and I liked the concept of a Welsh language play set in England where the main character can use language to her own advantage and flit and flirt between the two for her own pleasure and amusement. I had fun with the idea that Fleabag can't flirt or have sex in Welsh and her bravado is all in English. However, the play in my opinion is a confession and when Fleabag has to face up her demons and speak her truth her truth comes from the heart and the language of her heart where she is most truthful and most vulnerable is Welsh.
How do you balance the original story along with re-setting it in Wales?
Making decisions about the backstory that a Welsh language audience can read between the lines I guess. She has been raised in a bi-lingual household where jumping from one language to the other mid-sentence is the norm. I think Fleabag is universal and relatable to any young woman wrestling with expectations and pushing boundaries and questioning her own beliefs and actions. I think hearing her thoughts in Welsh adds another rich layer to the storytelling.
Phoebe was involved in the process of adapting the show. What was it like working with her.
Phoebe was very generous and patient and listened to ideas and prodded and poked a bit. It must be terrifying thinking someone is about to butcher a piece of work that is so instrumental to your career but she was very open minded and we laughed a lot discussing Welsh swear words and ridiculous sexual terms!
Have you learnt anything new during this process?
It's been such a joyous process especially being able to share the script in the rehearsal room and debating what words we should use for breasts and sick and poo and masturbating - yes very childish but relevant! Having fun and playing with the language and allowing Fleabag to weaponise the Welsh language and use for effect was great fun too. It was also interesting to play with the use of language when Fleabag wants to create effect and provoke the audience and finding the right tone and class for her as Phoebe and Fleabag are so distinctive and we wanted to find our own truthful Welsh version of Fleabag and not imitate the original.
Do you have a favourite line/part of the show?
Phoebe has created killer one liners and throwaway lines that stop you in your tracks. You can be keeled over laughing one minute then suddenly silenced by an emotional blow. There are images that shock and experiences that make you shudder, and I think I squealed constantly when reading and re-reading the original! I was left speechless by some lines and heartbroken by others. My favourite part of the show is a retelling of an unfortunate event that happened to Harry Fleabag’s ex at a restaurant. Harry was mortified when he initially shared the story that involves a lot of bodily fluid however Boo and Fleabag finds the whole story hilarious - it is, and also disgusting. Fleabag relishes the retelling in all its dramatic stomach churning glory.
What would you say to people who haven’t yet bought a ticket for the show?
Treat yourself! It's storytelling at its best that will floor you and provoke you. It's raw, it's honest and very very human. It feels like a stand-up show that exposes all the things that are said in your head that shouldn't be said out loud. Fleabag goes to those murky depths on your behalf, and you'll feel better for it!
Fleabag will be performed at Theatr Clwyd on 27-30 September. Tickets can be found here Tickets are from £10 with a recommended age rating of 16+.