Assembly Rooms – Music Hall
Reviewed – 15th August 2019
“it becomes an over the top, pantomime of character traits and gestures”
“How YOU doin’?” Not great! After seeing my favourite 90s American sitcom Friends has been turned into a confusing musical parody.
Friendsical disappointingly misses the mark in many ways. Branding itself as a parody but it is clearly a failed attempt to recreate a condensed version of David Crane and Marta Kauffman’s original hit show with a few beige musical numbers thrown in for good measure. Iconic colourful umbrellas in hand – the cast of Friendsical take to the stage, singing a second rate adaptation of the “I’ll Be There For You” theme song. Although their umbrella-ography by Darren Carnall is slick, and energetic that is about the only thing worth note in this ninety minute “romp”.
The premise for the show as Ross Geller (Jamie Lee Morgan) explains to the audience is that he has decided to make a “musical spectacular” to celebrate their ten years of friendship together but particularly commemorating his relationship with Rachel (Charlotte Elisabeth Yorke) and so he has cast his friends to play themselves and re-enact their own memories through song in this live performance. Get it? No? Me neither.
Miranda Larson’s writing makes excuses from the beginning when Ross explains that the ‘timelines’ might get mixed up but the audience just have to allow it in the name of “theatrical license”. This prerequisite allows Larson to cram the rest of the show with word for word re-creations of moments such as: ugly naked guy, the wedding dress scene, Janice and Chandler’s break up and out of context catchphrases in the hopes that we won’t notice the lack of any real substance.
These are the characters we know and love – as if they are on acid. The actors do a great imitation of each of their parallels with clear in depth research in physicality and voice. In particular, Sarah Goggin’s up-tight, control freak Monica and Thomas Mitchell’s snarky and awkward Chandler couldn’t BE anymore spot on. However, once the novelty of seeing these imitations wears off it becomes an over the top, pantomime of character traits and gestures.
Anthony Lamble’s set design is one of the things this production got right. With the iconic purple door, the huge bay window and the neon Central Perk coffee sign. Lamble has recreated in great detail the famous locations of Manhattan life, generating an overwhelming sense of nostalgia which this show is definitely lacking.
In truth Friendsical doesn’t feel like a lovingly made homage to the sitcom with 236 episodes which we have all rewatched at least ten times. It feels like a ‘play by numbers’ venture, riding off a multi-billion dollar brand to get hyped fans bums on seats. This ambitious remake is a steep price to pay for fans with not much given in return.
Reviewed by Liz Davis
Photography by Dale Wightman
Assembly Rooms – Music Hall until 25th August as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019
[title of show]
Above the Stag
Reviewed – 15th February 2019
“The format of the show is stuffed full of comic and satirical potential”
[title of show] charts the story of writer and composer Hunter and Jeff (Michael Vinsen and Jordan Fox respectively) trying to write a musical with their friends Susan (Natalie Williams) and Heidi (Kirby Hughes) for an upcoming festival and all the trials and tribulations that accompany it. The beautifully meta aspect of the show is that Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen were actually the creatives behind [title of show], which is the musical they wrote for an upcoming festival – it’s at one point described as ‘a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical’. This provides a delicious sense of spontaneity to the way the action on stage unfolds, as all the characters are aware that they are in a musical that is being written – one character remarks that Susan has been very quiet during the scene, she responds that it’s because she didn’t have a line in the script until now. The format of the show is stuffed full of comic and satirical potential, and moments like this wring all its possibilities fully.
However, the show was originally written in 2004 and has been considerably successful, even making it to Broadway in 2008, and so the second act of the show – which charts the journey of the show following the festival – feels disjointed and not quite as polished as a result. The first act’s blend of snappy dialogue, clever commentary and engaging songs that are fully integrated with the plot and characters are in the second act replaced with a messier concoction that feels more like a play that drags out a contrived conflict between two characters and begrudgingly throws a song in every now and then until the final sequence.
Thankfully, the shortcomings in [title of show]’s writing in the latter half is made up for by stellar direction and performances throughout. Director Robert McWhir takes every opportunity to let the story and the characters shine through, ensuring that the weaker elements feel more fleshed out and that the comedy and pathos is given the full spotlight. His smart staging makes the relatively cosy space feel huge, giving the actors ample room to take advantage of – and they certainly do. Every single cast member delivers an imaginative and encapsulating performance, although Michael Vinsen is especially exemplary in the relatability, drive, and hilarity he brings to Hunter. The only shortfall is that – as the actors don’t have mics – if they are at the opposite end of the space, lyrics can occasionally be lost.
This is a shame, as the music and lyrics are often catchy and clever. Numbers such as ‘Monkeys and Playbills’, ‘Die, Vampire, Die!’, and ‘Nine People’s Favourite Thing’ are all gleefully inventive and, thanks to Oli George Rew’s expert accompaniment, feel vivid and characterful in their composition.
The sheer love of musical theatre and the process of creation that [title of show] displays will make you fall in love with it despite some missteps, and will have you leaving the theatre truly charmed, and a little more inspired in your own dreams and aspirations.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Photography by PBG Studios
[Title of Show]
Above the Stag until 10th March
Last ten shows covered by this reviewer: