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
Reviewed – 18th September 2018
“Bully is able to create a genuine sense of threat to life from what initially might be dismissed as workplace silliness “
Luke Harding doesn’t attempt to deceive his audience when presenting the characters of his first play, Bully. It’s simple from the outset: Sam is the bully, Jack the victim. Reconvening as fellow teachers at the place of the original torment, Manor School, Harding’s play explores how bullying doesn’t just plague the younger years of the weak and vulnerable, but can lay dormant before resurfacing and intensifying in far more violent episodes later on. Owing in part to Harding’s writing, as well as to Nathan Hughes’ muscular portrayal of the brutal Sam, Bully is able to create a genuine sense of threat to life from what initially might be dismissed as workplace silliness — all in under 75 minutes. The play’s winding path leaves the audience with much to consider, but come the hard-hitting closing scene, the complexity of the struggle facing teachers and social workers to not only identify, but to somehow resolve bullying in the home, school, or workplace, is violently laid to bare. The conclusion is as unsettling as the process: in scenarios like these, there are rarely any winners.
The play takes place mostly in closed educational spaces and the home: the office of oblivious headmistress Helen (Sue Williamson), the staffroom, and Jack’s flat with his wife Rosie (Emily Sesto). The staging is sparse and unsung in these scenes, mostly providing fodder for Sam’s rages, the chance for Jack to take a stiff drink, and cluttered desks to show how overworked secondary school teachers really are. When the focus does shift to the classroom or assembly hall, the play ingeniously positions the audience as the schoolchildren — we witness an important power play while participating in an English lesson from Sam, while the play’s climax casts us as recipients of Jack’s last act of retaliation: an assembly on bullying itself.
Colleague and friend Leon (Thomas Mitchells) gives the play its lighter touches through delicate expression and body language, but even he cannot remain detached from Harding’s messy moral web — at its strongest when context fleshes out the fiery exchanges. Leon’s advice to Jack is eventually called into question by the ending — we are left wondering: should you bully a bully? Such questions come to dominate the later stages of the play — Harding’s decision to begin with a simple premise means that the narrative’s complexity comes later, surrounding rehabilitation and vengeance. But while Jack is caught in a seemingly impossible scenario as Sam’s own trauma is simultaneously unveiled, some of the work’s best lines move slightly further from the story, allusively confronting social issues such as state underfunding, opportunity, and privilege — all of which would benefit from further development. Nonetheless, Hughes’ delivery here is brilliant. When he screams ‘These kids are f***ed!’ in response to Jack’s optimism about social mobility and innovative learning, we realise that Harding is tackling so much more than isolated harassment. All behaviour is political, and allowing the play this space is the key to unlocking the expansive power of Harding’s confrontational theatrical style.
Reviewed by Ravi Ghosh
Photography by Thomas Mitchells
Etcetera Theatre until 23rd September