You know how we’ve all been demanding a Friends movie for years? Well, I changed my mind. In Ross and Rachel, James Fritz gives us a glimpse into the future of arguably one of TV’s most iconic couples – and it’s not pretty.
Presented as a rapid-fire duologue by solo performer Molly Vevers, and directed by Thomas Martin, the show explores what happens to the on-again, off-again couple after they finally get together, as doubts begin to creep in and an unexpected (and decidedly unfunny) crisis threatens the perfect future we all envisioned for them. Delicately constructed, with enough hints for any self-respecting Friends fan to feel at home, yet sufficiently vague that we could be listening to any couple, anywhere, Ross and Rachel is both a treat and a trauma for devotees of the TV show, taking us on a harsh reality trip outside the comfortable world of sitcom, and far beyond the happy ever after moment.
The ‘duologue for one person’ format takes a little while to get used to – like its characters, the two players in the drama blend into one unit, so it’s not initially obvious who’s saying what. Fortunately, through a combination of Fritz’s skilful writing and Molly Vevers’ spell-binding (and award-winning) performance, it takes a surprisingly short time to unravel the two voices from each other – and by the end of the play, it’s with a feeling of mild surprise you realise there’s only ever been one performer on stage.
The fact that most audience members already know the characters inside out is a double-edged sword; on the one hand, no introduction is needed, and it doesn’t take much for us to invest emotionally in their story. On the other, taking apart this golden couple and revealing them to be two real, flawed human beings just like the rest of us is a huge challenge – but one to which Vevers rises magnificently. She has the audience’s undivided attention from the moment she appears on the dimly lit stage, perched on the edge of a shallow pool and nursing a cup of coffee (what else?). Effortlessly embodying both roles, she delivers Fritz’s lines with passion, emotion and boundless energy, making us laugh and cry almost in the same breath.
Ross and Rachel isn’t really about Ross and Rachel, of course – it’s about the idea of relationships that popular culture sells us. We’re raised on a diet of romcoms and happy endings to believe that meeting ‘The One’ should be our goal in life, and that once we’ve found them, our lives will somehow freeze forever in that beautiful moment. This play exposes the sad reality – that sometimes a perfect ending is just the start of an imperfect next chapter. And if you think that sounds depressing… well, it is a bit. But sometimes the truth hurts.
There’s no doubt Ross and Rachel is a brilliantly written and impeccably performed play. I’m glad I saw it – but unlike every episode of Friends, I’m not sure I’d want to watch it again (or indeed 10, 20, 30 times… I lost count a long time ago). There’s nothing wrong with a dose of reality from time to time – but nobody looks to sitcoms, fairy tales or romantic movies for reality. They provide us with an escape from the challenges and mundanities of everyday life, and exposing their flaws – however affectionately – feels just a little bit cruel and unnecessary.
But hey, it’s nothing a Friends binge won’t fix…
Ross and Rachel is at Battersea Arts Centre until 25th June 2016 – all performances are sold out but visit the website for tour dates.