UNC Hosts Bold “Fleabag” Performance in Frasier Hall

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Lily Kamm, immersed in her portrayal of the main character, on the London Underground before the show began.

Late on a Friday night, a crowd packed into Frasier 005 lab theater to watch the final showing of “Fleabag,” directed by Gabriella Pafumi and starring Lily Kamm in a one-woman show unlike anything seen at the University of Northern Colorado.

Originally written in 2012 by up-and-coming British comic Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the play highlights a single actress playing the role of the Fleabag with a dry and witty sense of humor and no filter. 

The play documents the journey of a woman in London who has been tasked with taking on the burden of a guinea pig-themed café after the death of her friend in a suicide. However, there is depth and self-discovery for the character underneath the layers of dirty jokes and course humor that occur throughout the play. 

“I think the most I can consolidate it to is the complexities of what it is to be a woman now,” said Gabriella Pafumi, director and third year theater studies major. “There are so many imperfections and I think a part of the beauty of the show is that Fleabag is a very imperfect character. She goes up against our expectations of what a woman is supposed to be.”

Immediately, this is reflected in the vulgar source material, with a content warning posted inside the auditorium that included themes and or mentions of death, suicide, eating disorders, body shaming, sexual activity, sexual harassment and foul language as just a few potential triggers.

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“This script is a bit cutting edge [and] it definitely makes people a bit uncomfortable,” Pafumi said. “I think that especially in a community like this where we’re trying to be sensitive to one another, a show like this that pokes at some of those sore spots… it’s a bit of a risk on our end.”

Despite the crass themes and intense descriptions, the play was well received. Bridge-Waller’s career exploded in popularity after her work was discovered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013, leading to a television series spanning two seasons. 

Lily Kamm, the fourth year acting major tasked with portraying the emotionally underdeveloped and narcissistic main character, has been a big fan of Waller-Bridge’s work. Kamm was working on a separate research project on the English screenwriter before Pafumi reached out to her about starring in “Fleabag,” with Kamm stating that it felt like “divine timing” to take on the role. 

“Phoebe Waller-Bridge is really good at writing in that she’ll write something that seems like an off-handed joke or even an observation that’s really profound in the moment and she’ll call it back and change the meaning of it to make it even more profound,” Kamm said.

With roughly 9,000 words and around 50 pages of script, Kamm worked for months memorizing lines, despite being in a separate main stage play at the time. 

“Student shows are really important, they’re responsible for a lot of my growth in this program,” Kamm said. “There are some really creative people on campus that don’t get as much opportunity just through classes or just through the main stages to showcase that.”

The time and dedication shown by both the director and lead actress will not go unnoticed, as the play is very significant for the history of UNC’s theater program.

“I’ve never seen a one-woman show produced by students here, so it’s definitely its own feat to ask an undergraduate student to take on a show like this.” Pafumi said. “I read the script and I immediately fell in love with it. Not only is it written by a woman, but for women.”

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