Friendsical is billed as a ‘musical parody’ of Friends and unfortunately it fails to hit the mark on both counts. The premise of the show is that Ross, who acts as narrator, is celebrating the group’s ten years of friendship by committing it to a musical. Throughout the performance Ross breaks the fourth wall to include the audience in his observations, asking us to utilise theatrical license and suspend belief in terms of chronology. We’re happy to do this, as we are taken on a swift nostalgic trip across a decade which will have been formative for most of the audience.
Ten years of Friends distilled into just over an hour
The characters are easily identifiable and all inhabit their alter egos well – perhaps too well, in places. Several characters over-act their parts which became annoying, though this could be forgiven. The artists are relentlessly energetic, present and bold in their portrayal of the six friends. There are also many, many moments where the audience chuckle with the glee of recognition as all kinds of small, but unforgettable moments are worked into the script. Cups, fireball, Chandler’s third nipple, Ross’s leather trousers, Janice, Gunther, Phoebe’s babies, and that Rachel hairdo which swept the nation into a frenzy of replicas at every hair salon in the country.
The musical element of the show unfortunately fell far short of expectations. The songs were pleasant but forgettable, and the quality of vocals wasn’t great. Two of the characters had excellent voices, but the rest of the cast were lacklustre. Rich vocal finesse is the bare minimum I expect from something billed as a ‘musical’. This wasn’t helped by the dreadful sound quality, and I’m not sure what caused this. For the first ten minutes, I could barely understand the words the characters were singing. This can’t be excused as ad hoc Fringe venue issues as I’ve seen other performances in this venue which didn’t have this problem.
In terms of being a parody, Friendsical was a fantastic opportunity to challenge the many problematic elements of the original series, steeped in 90s attitudes which have been universally dismissed as irrelevant in the context of 2019. Unfortunately Larson failed to explore any of these – the casual homophobia; the lack of any kind of diversity; the toxic masculinity which saw the male characters mocked for any hint of a display of ‘non masculine’ characteristics or behaviours – and the biggie, the sickening objectification of women. Friendsical actually reinforced these tropes, with songs like Xerox Slut and the replica scene with Joey running around shouting for a ‘hot girl’. The character of Rachel was constantly adorned in comedy large protruding nipples and the generous part of me wants to believe this was in fact parody alluding to the fact that Rachel was the most sexualised character in the show. Though the fact that she gave up her dream job in Paris to remain in an ill-fated relationship with Ross was celebrated in the show, which leads me to believe my generosity may be misplaced. The only slight parody element was the reference to a few continuity errors, like the fact that Monica and Rachel’s flat number changed between seasons.
The saving grace of the piece was the energetic, well-choreographed dance routines by Darren Carnall. They were exceptional and the artists synchronised and performed them beautifully. A delightful hybrid of High School Musical and Glee, the powerfully animated routines brought the lazy concept of the show to life and elevated it substantially. This show is selling out and I imagine that’s because we all fell in love with the concept of Friends. And on that very basic level, people won’t be disappointed – the performance is basically ten years of Friends distilled into just over an hour. The dance and drama of the performance also enriches the show, so on that level it’s satisfactory. It just didn’t reach the potential of what it could have been, which is incredibly disappointing.