Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Fleabag at the Fringe: 10 years on
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has a well-earned reputation as a bustling arts marketplace; a place where agents, producers, programmers and other arts industry professionals from all over the world come to find work, and where Fringe artists can take the next important step on their career path. For some, that might mean onward touring, transferring to stages at festivals and venues across the globe, potentially going on to West End and Broadway success. For others, the Fringe provides a stepping stone to TV or film adaptation, itself a route to further screen work.
For Phoebe Waller-Bridge, it was all of the above. Her 2013 show, Fleabag, was a one-woman play at Underbelly. “We fundraised with a Kickstarter, packed our bags, slept eight people in a two-bed flat and crossed our fingers that people would come to see what we had made,” she told us later. She needn’t have worried – Fleabag went on to win a slew of awards, catching the attention of TV bosses who worked with her to develop the show for BBC Three.
The series premiered in 2016, with the second and final season drawing to a close in 2019 – at which point the stage show returned for a National Theatre run in the West End. A filmed version of that run was shown in cinemas as part of NT Live in September 2019; the recording was subsequently made available to stream during April 2020, in the midst of the first pandemic lockdown, with download proceeds donated to frontline charities as part of the Fleabag for Charity project.
Bringing things full circle in 2023, Fleabag for Charity donated £50,000 for artists bringing work to the Fringe; when matched by the Fringe Society, the £100,000 Keep it Fringe fund provided grants for 50 artists and companies to attend the 2023 festival. (In the interest of full disclosure, and also just because we’re very proud of the fact, she joined the Fringe Society as honorary President in 2021, a post she continues to hold.)
All the while, Waller-Bridge’s career has gone from strength to strength – she penned and starred in Crashing, a sitcom that aired on Channel 4 in 2016, and wrote and produced Killing Eve, which premiered in 2018 (and for which she was also the showrunner in season one). She provided voice work for Solo: A Star Wars Story, in 2018, and His Dark Materials in 2020; co-wrote No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond movie, which was released in 2021; and this year appeared opposite Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
The journey of Fleabag and Phoebe Waller-Bridge may be remarkable, but it’s far from the only success story at the Fringe. Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’s SIX premiered at Fringe 2017 before heading to the West End and Broadway; James Acaster road-tested several episodes of his Repertoire at the Fringe before releasing them on Netflix in 2018. Before he wrote Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda came to Edinburgh as part of Freestyle Love Supreme in 2005, which was also a proving ground for Flight of the Conchords in 2002 and the Mighty Boosh in 1998.
So, if you're an audience member and you're choosing what to see at Fringe 2023, keep your ear to the ground for those word-of-mouth surprises – you never know where they’ll end up.
On the other hand, if you're an artist and you're thinking about your career post-Fringe, check in with our Artist Development team who'll be happy to help you consider your options.