Ross & Rachel

Thu 6th – Mon 31st August 2015

reviews

Fergus Morgan

at 01:51 on 10th Aug 2015

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Everyone knows the story. Ross chases Rachel to the airport. She gets off the plane. They kiss and their ten-year on-off relationship finally reaches its happy conclusion. Chandler makes a wisecrack as the six Friends leave their iconic apartment for the last time, with Jefferson Airplane tinkling wistfully in the background. But what happens next? What happens to Ross and Rachel over the next decade? How do they cope with the burdens of marriage, illness, and depression?

This one-woman play (written by James Fritz) charts the gradual disintegration of this classic fairy-tale love story, skilfully and successfully observing its hypocrisies and fallacies. Don’t take it too hard if you’re a Friends fan, though; Ross and Rachel are merely placeholders for the lies we all tell ourselves. Fritz is not aiming specifically at David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston, but at the unrealistic concept they – and so many others like them – embody. Ross & Rachel is a brutal, visceral assassination of 'true love'.

Fritz presents the couple in their mid-forties. Ross is still ceaselessly devoted to the romantic poetry of their failing relationship; Rachel frustrated by her lack of independence. As the audience witnesses Rachel’s increasingly flirtatious relationship with a co-worker, Ross’ mental breakdown in the face of terminal illness, and the gradual growth of hatred where once was love, they do not just begin to question their faith in “happily-ever-after”, but watch it crumble altogether. It is powerful, sobering stuff.

It is performed spectacularly well by Molly Vevers, who alternates rapidly between the characters of Ross and Rachel in one breathless hour. Standing (and sometimes sitting) in a shallow pool of water and surrounded by a mockingly romantic ring of candles, Vevers delivers a dialogue that shifts between snatches of conversation and flashes of thought with lightning speed, sometimes acting out arguments between the 'happy couple', sometimes performing one side of conversations with other imaginary characters, sometimes just pouring forth torrents of words. Fritz’ script is intelligent, sensitive and subtle, and Vevers performance is nothing short of riveting.

Is the message Fritz imparts with Ross & Rachel, stripped back to its bare essentials, any more than cheap cynicism? Is it simply a brilliantly delivered elaboration on the age old question “do you believe in true love?”

Ross & Rachel is far from an irresponsible play – it is, in fact, a forceful, dynamic piece of theatre featuring a sensational performance from Vevers – the argument it presents, despite commendably effective delivery, is a thoroughly hackneyed and frustratingly one-dimensional.

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Abigail Smith

at 09:00 on 10th Aug 2015

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Upon reading the title, I was thoroughly excited about a Friends theatre show, featuring everyone’s favourite on-off couple. As Ross and Rachel unfolded however, it was made clear that the saccharine sweet world of sitcoms and ‘perfect’ couples was being quickly unravelled in front of us. We are never told the characters’ names, but rather work in tacit agreement with performer Molly Vevers that the famous couple are our point of reference; with her, we find out what happens when the couple who are meant to be together actually are.

The show was a one-woman act, driving home the claustrophobic unit that ‘Ross and Rachel’ had become, and made Rachel’s desire to reclaim her individuality feel poignantly fruitless. The problems in their relationship are evidenced from the start, and Fritz scripts Ross as a man obsessed with the relationship he had in his 20s, preferring to show an old photo of his wife in her ‘best’ days. He is also disconcertingly possessive, repeating the line “She’s a prom queen and she belongs to me” as if we are supposed to find it romantic. It is evident, even as the play creaks to its unsettling close, that Ross wants a sitcom life, demanding applause and for their romance to outlive even death.

Vever’s acting is what truly makes this show shine. She gives a stunningly delicate performance, flickering between Ross and Rachel, allowing the two to unravel slowly in front of us, climbing further into the shallow pool of water set in front of her as they do. She unflinchingly addresses the audience in a series of incomplete conversations and unanswered questions, acknowledging our voyeuristic presence in this crumbling relationship, and leaving us strangely complicit in giving Ross the applause he so desperately craves.

Despite numerous knowing Friends references (which the audience loved), the show is certainly a bleak one, and highly moving. I was reduced to tears by its close, though I couldn’t quite articulate why. The show’s captivating magic lay for me not in its debunking of 'the myth of modern love', which felt slightly melodramatic at points, but in Vever’s overwhelming performance, and the brutally honest depiction of disease. Rachel’s final realisation that she was alone at last was poignant, and seemed a not altogether gloomy ending. However cynical the show’s outlook is on love, as she closes with Friends’ signature theme-song claps, Rachel finally seems free.

Ross and Rachel never completes the iconic couple’s story, as the script is just distanced enough to leave them frozen in time; I never fully associated it with the show in my mind, but just enough to give me the couple’s backstory. This is a show which cannot be missed; I could it watch again and again, and still be astounded by both Vevers, and James Fritz’s beautiful script which she brings to life.

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