As a lifelong FRIENDS fans, I admit I had mixed feelings heading into Northern Stage’s impressive Stage One auditorium to watch a brand new musical parody of the show. While for 15 years now, I (along with most of the world) have been living in hope of some sort of revival of the show, the truth of the matter is that no-one else other than the original Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe can come close to replacing the six stalwarts of sitcom television in my heart.
Luckily, that wasn’t what Friendsical the Musical was setting out to do. Written and directed by Miranda Larson, the performance started as it meant to go on – by playfully poking fun at its own parodic style with the opening number We’ll Be There For You – almost, almost the same as the TV show’s legendary theme tune by The Rembrandts. And as the main action of the performance began, the audience quickly became aware that this wasn’t going to be some sort of sequel to the Season 10 finale (we can’t help but remember Joey’s spin-off), but rather a reimagining of several of the show’s most iconic episodes, all pulled together in one hilarious, incredibly clever, albeit slightly incongruous (as the actors themselves admit), stage production.
Opening at the same point as the original TV pilot – in Central Perk coffeehouse, when Ross’ wife has just left him for another woman and he fears he will never find love again, before old crush Rachel Green runs back into his life, conveniently wearing a wedding dress – Friendsical stampedes through 10 years of comedic genius at breakneck speed, and in sensational fashion. Featuring original songs (He’s her) Lobster!, Richard’s Moustache, and You’re Over Me? When Were You Under Me?, the gang take on Naked Thursdays, a power cut, and a dinosaur convention – what could possibly go wrong?
The acting was superb, and what I enjoyed most about the performance was that each actor incorporated the little quirks, movements and idioms of the characters effortlessly – but obviously – into their performances: meaning at every joke you were immediately transported back to when you first heard it in the TV show while, at the same time, enjoying its new context on the stage. Ally Retberg was particularly impressive as Phoebe (and, at times, Janice), capturing the quirky, offbeat ditziness of the masseuse by day, musician by night perfectly. Sarah Goggin had the shrill, ‘breezy’ competitiveness of Monica down to a tee, Charlotte Elisabeth York’s delivery of dialogue was scarily similar to Rachel’s, Jamie Lee-Morgan had Ross’ loveable goofiness in bucketloads and Thomas Mitchells couldn’t be any more perfect for Chandler. Jordan Fox was forced to miss the performance due to illness, but ensemble cast member Duncan Burt fabulously stepped into the role of Joey last minute – so much so that you could hardly tell he hadn’t been cast in the role originally, but for his slight lack of character quirks compared to the other five friends – as well as fulfilling some of the supporting roles, (most hilariously as Chloe, ‘the hot girl from the Xerox place’). Special mention should also go to fellow ensemble member Rebecca Withers, who balanced the roles of almost all the supporting characters – including Gunther, Julie and, randomly, a dinosaur – with hilarity and aplomb.
Teeming with in-jokes, if (for some unknown reason) you weren’t a fan of the original sitcom, then Friendiscal the Musical probably isn’t for you. But if you’re a bona fide FRIENDS fan looking for a new fix, you’ve come to the right place.
To find out what other shows are coming up at Northern Stage, visit www.northernstage.co.uk