In a new book celebrating the return of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s original stage production of Fleabag to London’s West End, the writer revealed that she originally penned a different finale to the show.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge is good at endings.
See: Killing Eve. Villanelle, stabbed in the stomach by Eve in a moment of lover’s quarrel-cum-passion and left for dead in her sprawling Parisian apartment. Also see: Fleabag. Who could forget how the television series ended this year, with a roving fox, a stolen statue and a lingering kiss from a very hot priest?
Waller-Bridge’s ending for the original 2014 stage show upon which the television series was based is similarly good. Without spoiling it for anyone lucky enough to be catching it in theatres during its limited London run, the play ends not with a whimper but a loud, sweary bang.
But that ending, equal parts tragic and comic, was not exactly what Waller-Bridge first intended. In her new book Fleabag: The Special Edition by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Nick Hern, £10.99), we’re treated to the script from the original stage show as well as a printed conversation between Waller-Bridge and Fleabag director Vicky Jones. And in it we learn that Waller-Bridge envisaged a very different finale to the one we actually see on stage.
“There was an alternative ending for the play very early on which is not for now,” Waller-Bridge says to Jones.
“It shall not be mentioned,” replies Jones.
“It shall not be mentioned, there are 80 people in the world that think Hilary came to a very different kind of end.”
Hilary is Boo’s guinea pig, gifted to her by Fleabag and much adored. In the end of the Fleabag stage show Hilary’s life comes to a very untimely and graphic demise. What could the “different kind” of end be that Waller-Bridge is referring to? What could possibly happen to poor Hilary that is worse than death? (I can think of a few things but I dare not mention them on this, Beyoncé’s internet.)
In their frank and open conversation in the book, Waller-Bridge also revealed that the reason she cries at the end of every production is because Jones, her confidant and collaborator, recorded her own voice to be used as a stand-in for Fleabag’s best friend Boo.
“I love that you play Boo,” Waller-Bridge tells Jones. “It helps me pretend to cry at the end… Performing the final speech does get me riled up but, I’m afraid to say, imagining a life without you is what gets me to that broken place at the end of the play. Imagining your death. That’s nice isn’t it?”
The conversation between Waller-Bridge and Jones is the conversation of two friends raking over the shared history of a creative project that has dominated the last seven years of their life. Towards the end of the book, Waller-Bridge and Jones reminisce on the opening of the play in New York earlier this year. Jones, who had just given birth to her baby boy, couldn’t fly to New York to be there and Waller-Bridge was bereft.
“In New York, feeling a little disconnected after so many years having not done the play, I sent a message saying I couldn’t quite find her yet and was feeling a little lost,” Waller-Bridge says.
Jones responded with a text that Waller-Bridge read in her dressing room every night before she went on stage.
“Your text was a roar about what that character meant to us back then,” Waller-Bridge recalled. “You said, ‘I don’t think she’s felt anything in a really long time,’ – Jesus, it makes me emotional just saying it – ‘and she hasn’t allowed herself to feel anything in a really long time. That’s who you need to perform.’”
She continued: “You and I just saw her as we see each other… as someone we could easily become if we went down a slightly different road or had our hearts broken in the way she did. She is desperately trying to convince the audience that she is fine and in control, but the truth is she lost her best friend and no longer has anyone who understands her in the world.”
Fleabag: The Special Edition by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Nick Hern, £10.99) is on sale now.
Images: Getty, BBC