Entertainment & Arts

Fleabag is back - and she's found religion

Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Fleabag

Fleabag, the filthy and funny but somewhat damaged character we met in the TV comedy of the same name, has been desperately trying to turn over a new leaf.

"She's really been trying hard to eat avocados and go jogging and live a good, quiet life," the show's creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge explains ahead of the start of the second series.

It's been three years since Fleabag arrived on screens, but series two picks up a year on from where the first series left off.

However, it soon becomes clear that Fleabag's optimistic frame of mind is no more than a front and that she is still a long way away from the woman she wants to be.

"There's still something inside of her that's roaring and a great sadness as well. She's been rejected by everybody who loves her so she's deeply lonely."

Same old Fleabag.

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Media captionFleabag's Sian Clifford on return of award-winning series

That may be bad for the fictional character, but it's good news for fans who were amused and moved by her tragi-comic exploits in series one.

That series saw Waller-Bridge's scatty singleton struggling to cope with a chaotic life in which casual relationships, familial tensions and a guinea pig-themed café with no customers were the only constants.

Not only that, she was also tortured by feelings of guilt stemming from the suicide of her best friend and a fall-out with her sister over the latter's odious husband.

Series two kicks off in a restaurant with a reunion dinner that soon disintegrates in ways that are both hilarious and harrowing.

But it also sees Fleabag meet a charismatic priest, played by Andrew Scott, who jolts her into considering life from a different point of view.

"I was really convinced I wasn't going to do a second series and felt I had a lot of artistic integrity in saying that," Waller-Bridge says.

"But a couple of ideas popped into my head that I got excited by and I thought, 'oh, go on then.'

"The real bedrock of it was tied up with the idea of religion. I was starting to write jokes about perspectives on the Christian faith and Catholicism, and that bled into the show.

"Once Andrew said yes, the story really started to take over in my imagination. I liked the idea of Fleabag meeting her match in someone with the same intelligence and wit she has who leads a completely different life."

Image caption Oscar winner Olivia Colman reprises her role as Fleabag's godmother

Scott isn't the only new addition to an established core cast that includes Sian Clifford as sister Claire, Bill Paterson as their father and Olivia Colman - fresh from her best actress win at this year's Oscars - as their far-from-beloved godmother.

Dame Kristin Scott Thomas also swells the ensemble in an as yet unspecified role, while Fiona Shaw takes a break from Killing Eve - which Waller-Bridge co-wrote - to play a psychiatrist.

(Returning to Fleabag means Waller-Bridge also has less involvement in Killing Eve's second series, although she is still on board as an executive producer.)

The writer-performer promises that even though Fleabag's title character has "grown up a bit", the new series will be just as frank as the first.

"Sexual candour is how Fleabag controls her environment and conversations," she explains. "It's a very empowering way to distract from her inner pain."

Image caption Sian Clifford (left) returns as Fleabag's sister Claire

However, Waller-Bridge herself won't be in the UK when the second series arrives on BBC Three and BBC One on Monday.

That's because the 33-year-old is treading the boards in New York in a revival of the one-woman show that started the whole phenomenon in 2013.

"It's really nice coming back to the genesis of the whole thing," Waller-Bridge says.

"It's quite cathartic to go back to the beginning, and reading the lines and rehearsing the play again have reconnected me to the character in a way I otherwise probably wouldn't have."

With her mind on her six-week run at New York's Soho Playhouse, Waller-Bridge is clear about the prospects of a third Fleabag series.

"I have thought about it and there isn't going to be one," she declares. "This is it - this is the final curtain.

"And yes, I did say that last time."

Fleabag series two launches on BBC Three on Monday 4 March at 10:00 GMT and will be shown on BBC One at 22:35 that day. Fleabag The Play runs at the Soho Playhouse in New York until 14 April.

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