BWW Review: FRIENDSICAL, Nuffield Southampton Theatres
This year, the ever-popular sitcom Friends turns 25 years old; and what better way to celebrate than by seeing it memorialised on stage in musical form?
After a run at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Friendsical has enjoyed a nationwide tour, arriving at Nuffield Southampton Theatres this October.
Written and directed by Miranda Larson, and produced by Birdbrooke Entertainment ltd, Friendsical styles itself as a homage to all things Central Perk. It's not so much a word-for-word recreation of the ten-season cult classic, as a medley and parody of all of our favourite bits crammed together into a two-hour(ish) stage show.
Apparently created by Ross as a tribute to the series, Friendsical takes us through some of the moments we all know and love; we see Rachel's iconic entrance, Ross's attempt to 'grab a spoon', and a reference to the infamous episode The One Where No One's Ready.
Well-loved lines and scenes are sprinkled among brand new songs, and the show is crammed full of catchphrases, outfits and references that will tickle many Friends fans. A lot of care and attention has been paid to getting as much into the production as possible.
The result feels fun, but slightly overloaded. It would have been impossible to include everything, and in the right order. However, it feels as though the idea for a show full of random quotes came first, and a vague plot was formed around it.
Friendsical is very aware of its confusing timelines and inaccuracies, and it's quite clear that it's not meant to replicate true-to-show storylines. But with such an iconic source of inspiration, it's very hard not to make comparisons and pick out areas where the show falls short of expectation.
The cast reflects and mimics each character well, turning them into amusing caricatures of themselves, suiting the show's satirical intentions. Each familiar face has been somewhat exaggerated by the actors to emphasise the characters' more annoying or entertaining traits, making them almost instantly recognisable.
Thomas Mitchells' Chandler very much stands out, and is as sarcastic and melodramatic as you'd expect, while Ally Retberg has really captured Phoebe's whimsicality and slight ditzyness.
Although he is perhaps the least like his original character, Jordan Fox's Joey packs a punch with his vocals, seemingly putting his own spin on the lovable lothario. Charlotte Elisabeth York as Rachel also offers up some great singing skills.
Jamie Lee-Morgan exaggerates Ross's uptight mannerisms to great effect, and Sarah Goggins's Monica is high pitched, high maintenance and highly entertaining. Although the American accents are slightly inconsistent, the whole team work hard to recreate one of TV's most popular sextets and are clearly having a ball in the meantime.
A lot of credit must also be given to the supporting acts and small details. Gunther (played by Duncan Burt) and Janice's appearances (played on the most part by Ally Retberg) are a testament to these minor characters who give so much to the original show. Emily's (Rebecca Withers) walk on, among many, is also a momentary delight.
The set, designed by Anthony Lamble, is hefty but well thought out, once again with some simple and iconic references to Friends. However, the changes between scenes are less than smooth, lending the production a slightly inelegant quality.
The music (sound by Julian Butler, musical composition by Barrie Bignold) is superbly silly and manages to weave major storylines in with original tunes which, while the lyrics are a little forgettable, complement the show's loud, lively and parodic nature.
Could this show *be* any better? Perhaps. Its length and tightly-packed plot may sometimes make audiences wish they too were 'on a break' - but the production is still a fun and nostalgic take on a show which continues to capture the hearts of viewers worldwide over a decade after its final scenes.
While it may fall short for diehard fans of the original series, Friendsical is full of favourite moments and popular references, as well as amusing impressions, and provides an enjoyable evening's entertainment.