Fleabag: Fiona Shaw sings Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s praises ahead of series 2

Fleabag returns in one of the all-time great weeks for television comedy in the UK – with Derry Girls back, Home kicking off on Channel 4, and This Time… with Alan Partridge continuing on the BBC

Fleabag is painfully funny. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s comedy, which took critics and viewers by storm in 2018 is in equal parts excruciating and exhilarating. Writing this sharp does not come along every day.

And as series two begins, the good news is that it might just be even more painful, even more powerful, and even funnier than the debut.

Fiona Shaw, so outstanding in Killing Eve as super-dry, stylish, secretive, sensational Carolyn Martens, head of the Russia Desk at MI6, joins the cast of Fleabag for series two as a psychologist, alongside Sherlock’s Andrew Scott as a priest. That’s an explosive combination…

“Phoebe has the sort of gift Oscar Wilde had of turning ordinary things into the extraordinary,” says Shaw. “She inverts things very surprisingly and very naturally. She really is queen of the comedy of embarrassment, which is very English. It comes from her exploring terror. I think all comedy comes from terror.

“I keep saying she is a bit like William Congreve. He wrote ‘The Way of The World’ in 1700 when he was 21. She has that sort of facility, she sees her world very clearly. And she polishes it so no word is wasted. While we were filming, she would rewrite it – improving things, turning the knife further in.”

The examination of sexuality, grief, loss, friendship and the anxiety and angst of modern life became an instant hit – and Waller-Bridge, it was immediately clear, was a voice we needed to hear far more from.

It is like standing near one of those red heaters, she absolutely glows with energy

She has not looked back. Waller-Bridge followed the series with global smash Killing Eve, subverting every TV drama trope as showrunner and lead writer. There was even a scene-stealing role as droid L3-37 in Solo: A Star Wars Story – a performance that was comfortably the best thing about that film.

Fleabag returns in one of the all-time great weeks for television comedy in the UK – with Derry Girls back, Home kicking off on Channel 4, and This Time… with Alan Partridge continuing on the BBC.

Shaw, who is also joined by Kristin Scott Thomas and the returning Olivia Colman in series two of Fleabag, hopes we are witnessing the start of a long and beautiful artistic friendship.

“I’m happy to fly all over the world on Phoebe’s coat sleeve,” she says. “I will be very upset if she does anything I am not in. I will be offended.

“When you are in her presence, she is a tremendous force. It is like standing near one of those red heaters, she absolutely glows with energy.”

Read much more from Fiona Shaw in next week’s Big Issue…

Fleabag airs on Mondays from 4 March on BBC1 and is released weekly via iPlayer

Image: BBC