Fleabag's Vicky Jones: 'Stop pretending everyone knows how to do sex'

From directing Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag to her new play Touch, Vicky Jones isn’t afraid to tell the truth about young women’s messy sexual exploits

The theatrical career of Vicky Jones started disastrously. In 2007, she was sacked from a directing job, although it was some comfort that a member of the cast walked out in protest. As Phoebe Waller-Bridge was as unknown as Jones, the producers may have considered them no great loss. But the two suddenly unemployed women’s decision to meet up for a drink led to one of the great cultural successes of recent years: Fleabag.

Written and performed by Waller-Bridge and directed by Jones, the graphic tragicomic monologue about a sexually adventurous but emotionally insecure young woman was a stage hit in Edinburgh and London before being adapted by Waller-Bridge into a Bafta-winning BBC TV version.

A decade on, in another London pub, Jones describes her early directorial mishap as “the happiest accident of my life because I met Phoebe” although at the time she was “really traumatised by it”. Did the two women sneak in to see how their replacements fared? “No. It was a very small theatre, so we would have been noticed.”

Graphic tragicomedy … Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag at the Edinburgh fringe in 2013.
Graphic tragicomedy … Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag at the Edinburgh fringe in 2013. Photograph: Richard Davenport

Over that consoling drink, Jones and Waller-Bridge founded DryWrite, a company developing new work. Although the origins of the title are now lost, it seems to contain something of the idea of dry runs, a dry sense of humour and dry white wine.

Initially they script-edited and directed work by other young dramatists, including the now celebrated James Graham, Lucy Kirkwood and Jack Thorne. But they also wanted to write themselves, which resulted in Fleabag, Jones’s award-winning first play The One – and now a successor, Touch.

In the new play, Amy Morgan plays Dee, a bisexual young woman who has various encounters with lovers whose personalities (and turn-ons) cover a stark range. As Jones’s The One focused on the sometimes violent couplings in the life of a 29-year-old woman (played by Waller-Bridge), and Fleabag was also a sexual confessional, the women have established a brand: a sort of 18-certificate Bridget Jones.

“I think Phoebe and I were really inspired by our friendship,” Jones says, “in which we could tell each other anything. In retrospect – I’m not sure we articulated this at the time – we wanted to create theatre in which women could discuss anything without censoring themselves.”

One subject Touch explores is the idea that, although sex has become freer, pleasure can remain elusive. “Porn makes sexual pleasure look very easy,” says Jones. “It’s not necessarily hard to make a woman come. But it’s quite specific and requires communication. And where is that communication happening in these very fast, casual relationships?”

A crucial prop in one scene of Touch is the book She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman by Dr Ian Kerner. “Most women know all the books about how a woman can be brilliant in bed. But no man ever seems to have heard of She Comes First. Not even the best men! When are we going to stop pretending that everyone knows how to do sex?”

An occupational hazard of writing about this topic is angry texts from exes or lawyers’ letters beginning: ‘Our client believes that the character in your play ...’ Has that happened to them? “Oh my God! Not yet. Oh, gosh, maybe I’ve got that to look forward to.”

Sex has become her subject because she is “excited by relationship power dynamics. The plays are a love letter to single women. I was single for so long in my 30s. You feel society judging you and then there’s the whole baby issue. People have said to me, ‘When are you having babies?’ I want to say, ‘When are you having a career?’”

Lu Corfield and Rufus Wright in The One by Vicky Jones at Soho theatre in 2014.
Lu Corfield and Rufus Wright in The One by Vicky Jones at Soho theatre in 2014. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Jones is now in a relationship with a journalist. He has apparently not demanded assurances against being used as material for future plays. But writers of explicit fiction also have to deal with the reactions of relatives. “It’s really hard,” Jones says. “I couldn’t have written The One if I hadn’t promised myself that my parents would never read it or come to see it. They did both in the end and actually were great about it. My mum was, like, ‘Yeah, it was really sexy.’ My dad was just a bit pink.”

The deal with Touch is that Mr and Mrs Jones will be taken out to dinner by their daughter before a performance and will get as drunk as she chooses (“Absolutely hammered,” she predicts). Then they’ll go home in a taxi afterwards and never discuss the play with her. But, by definition, don’t our parents know about sex? “Yes, that’s true. But it is still very embarrassing.”

Waller-Bridge is credited as the dramaturg on Touch, returning the compliment of Jones’ script-editing Fleabag for TV. “We’re always on each other’s work.” Can they be tough with each other? “Yes. We really can. Just the other day, Phoebe said, ‘Forgive me, but I don’t think that ending has the impact you think it has.’ So I rewrote it. We always take it in the right spirit. I don’t think there’s ever been a serious argument.”

Jones has written one episode of Killing Eve, the series based on the novellas of Luke Jennings about an assassin and the woman hunting her down. Waller-Bridge is showrunner for the thriller, which is due next year. Has her friend’s newfound fame changed their relationship? “No,” says Jones. “Really not. I’ve always known she’d be a star from the first time we met.”

• Touch is at Soho theatre, London, until 26 August. Box office: 020-7478 0100.


Mark Lawson

The GuardianTramp

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