Everything we love about ten seasons of Friends is condensed into a two hour parody show.
It feels appropriate that in the year celebrating the 25 years since NBC’s hit sitcom Friends hit our screen, a reworking of the beloved show takes to our stages, but it doesn’t quite deliver the same warm, nostalgic feeling the hit show does. It offers something quite different; a parody encompassing almost everything from the series’ 10-season long run and a chance to see everything we love about the cult classic rolled into one two-hour-long show.
Friendsical’s run at the NST City marks its penultimate stop on the show’s UK tour and has been highly anticipated among those wishing to relive the lives of six friends that occupied our television screens for 10 years. The iconic Central Park sofa that graced every poster for this show was the first thing that lured you down the familiar tunnel into what would become the New York setting recognised by all. The show’s bold opening number offers high energy and a big impact on the audience, promising this to be a jam-packed show as well as demonstrating how well this can work as a musical. This energy was welcomed as it helped to carry the show in what could have easily become a confusing and overwhelming storyline and maintained the fantastical element a musical needs.
Seeing as Friends was an open and closed book there wasn’t much room to wiggle when it came to creating a believable and forgiving storyline, hence the retelling of the entire 10 years from Ross’ perspective. At the top of the show we are given a sort of warning as to what we are about to watch, making the messy overlapping of storylines years apart almost okay as a result of this. There is a nice self-aware element of the show which feeds directly into this as a parody, as well as mocking theatre as a mode of storytelling, reminding the audience not to take too seriously what they are watching. Had this aimed to deliver a serious and fully realised version of the original source material, it wouldn’t have worked.
Despite it being a parody, it is rather elitist when it comes to the material used, and to properly enjoy it and have it make real sense, you need to be a major fan of Friends. When you aren’t, you’re left behind. The show is full of all the best moments (jokes, characters, minor situations) of the series that puzzle the ordinary theatre-goer hoping to watch a parody based on this classic show. Although you can enjoy the musical element of the show, it makes no sense when you aren’t versed in every piece of Friends-related content, meaning there isn’t something for everyone. This feels like an oversight in the production and perhaps a big let down if someone that has seen a few episodes of the series hopes to watch something they can sink their teeth into.
On the flip side, for those that are super-fans of the show not a moment goes by in which you aren’t given some of the best bits that the series has to offer. The inclusion of Janice throughout the show, the callbacks to Joey’s multiple relationships, and the adoption of Jennifer Anniston’s infamous nipple-gate are some of the biggest indications that we know and love this world. This is only enhanced by the fantastic characterisation of Phoebe (Ally Retberg) and Chandler (Thomas Mitchells). Both capture the essence of such beloved characters and feed this to the audience to elicit the humour they invoke whilst simultaneously reminding us why we love them. It feels as though sometimes certain characters go above and beyond the realms of over-the-top acting making it feel a little overwhelming, even for a parody. Even when this becomes the case, the audience are bought back into the fold by the skill used by everyone to convey a completely different character: Jordan Fox (Joey) turns into the Chloe the Xerox Girl, and Thomas Mitchells (Chandler) makes a daring performance as Richard.
The major pull for me is the humour engulfing the show. The production works as a critique on several aspects of the show, most notably continuity and artistic choices of the source material, without transforming it into a satire of the original series and maintaining the comedy that we are promised. Even the throwaway lines that not everyone remembers are given a chance to shine in this production, as well as the more infamous ones: cue ‘we were on a break!’
Friendsical is a laugh, and it’s an enjoyable retelling of the story we all know and love. If you’re someone that isn’t overly precious over Freinds, then you’ll love it for the wonderful caricature it presents, but if you think that this production will only butcher what you hold to be the epitome of TV excellence, stay away from it.
Friendsical is playing at the NST Campus until the 26th October.