Friendsical, Bath Theatre Royal

DURING the many years that my father trained greyhounds, he had quite a few of them taken from his charge because he gave their owners a too honest opinion of their abilities, and prospects of winning a race. “It takes” he said, “just as much time and effort from me and financial support from you, to keep a greyhound of such poor ability in training, as it does a top-class animal. So why not retire this one to a quiet peaceful home and start again with a new prospect”. Alas it was advice that often fell on deaf ears, the owners taking the criticism as a personal affront.

In some ways you could offer similar advice to the writer/director/lyricist/composer and producers of this show. The big difference is that unlike the aforementioned greyhounds this show is not a completely lost cause.

The idea of bringing a potted history of one of the all-time great TV sit-coms (Friends ran for ten seasons from 1994 to 2004, attracting 52.5 million viewers for its final episode)to the stage, supported by an original score, has its attractions. For the many fans all over the world with still-vivid memories of the adventures of the six friends – Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler, Joey and their friends – whom they followed through 236 episodes, a chance to see them and their lives recreated on stage is a very attractive proposition.

Many of the Friends aficionados in the audience found a great deal to enjoy in this show in its present format. Others however, who did not have as deep a knowledge of the series, having only enjoyed dipping in and out of it over the years, did not pick up on many of the in-house references and jokes, with the result that they did not always receive the fulsome response they needed, and as far as those fans were concerned, deserved.

When a more easily accessible piece of comedy arose – like Nelson Bettencourt (Ross) and Sario Solomon (Joey) strikingly cross-dressed in a mini black sequined dress for a dream scene – the audience readily responded. As they did to Bettencourt’s many successful efforts to play straight to the audience.

In turn, each of the Friends had their moment in the spotlight, solo or in tandem with others – Amelia Kinu Muus (Rachel) attempting to recreate her college days as a cheerleader; Tim Edwards (Chandler) forever insecure and suspicious of Sarah Michelle-Kelly’s ace organiser Monica; Ally Retberg’s (Phoebe) lovely attempts, when pregnant, to get comfortable on the sofa; with Olivia Williamson and Tanveer Singh Devgun swiftly changing wigs and costumes as the remaining characters were added to the plot. They are all played deliberately in the broadest of styles, which makes them easily recognisable as the original characters from the TV series, but is sailing a bit near to caricature in a full-length show.

Trying to cram ten years’ work into a just over two-and-a-half-hour show, much of it via Miranda Larson’s lyrics to Barrie Bignold’s original score, often accompanied by simple movement reminiscent of a University revue bound for the Edinburgh Fringe, choreographed by Darren Carnall and Michael Vinsen, is just asking too much of the creators and performers. It would be interesting to see if this show, which started life in a shorter version at the Edinburgh Festival, is still regarded as a work-in-progress, and further changes will be made as the final venues of the tour are played.

If you really are a true loyal fan of Friends, then none of those faults will matter a jot to you, the pleasure of recalling those old plot lines and familiar characters will be more than ample compensation.


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