The One With The Perfect Ending.
Except it’s not.
If you’re watching ‘Ross & Rachel’ by James Fritz expecting a nostalgic trip into the late 90s and early noughties, a revisiting of one of television’s most beloved couples in a what-happened-next filled with canned laughter and snappy one-liners…you’re watching the wrong production. Yes, it is indeed littered with ‘Friends’ references, but it also touches on ‘Notting Hill’, ‘Love Actually’ and even ‘Jerry Maguire’. Such fleeting moments, nods to iconic tales of love, are peppered throughout, but the play itself is far from a happily-ever-after love story.
It’s about a prom queen and a nerd, a woman who loves fashion and a man who loves dinosaurs, a woman who thinks that maybe she made the wrong choice and a man who is sure their love is ‘meant to be’.
It’s about Ross and Rachel, but it’s also not about Ross and Rachel…
Challenging for both audience and performer, in the wrong hands this piece could be a total flop – thankfully, the Horsebox at Home production has put it into exactly the right hands, with Tallulah Smith performing as both Ross and Rachel, and Joe Plumb directing.
Tallulah plays both roles in this dialogue for one, and it is her performance that holds the play together. Her inflections, particularly as Rachel, are spot on and her handling of Ross’ darker moments makes this piece, at times, difficult to watch – in a good way. Her delivery of the disturbing description of Ross’ imagined suicide pact with Rachel, and of his dream about gouging out his brain tumour with one of his keys, is uncomfortable and intense, and brilliant.
The ‘Friends’ theme tune is iconic, and it noticeably features in the inspired use of a clapping sound between scenes, punctuating the action and reminding the audience throughout of the sitcom on which this piece was based.
Clever, too, is the way some of Ross and Rachel’s best-loved moments are put into an entirely different context: ‘I’m fine!’ becomes Ross’ reaction to being told he has one year to live, for example; there’s a reference to Ross being Rachel’s lobster, except it becomes the stuff of nightmares rather than a sign they are meant to be; the word ‘and’ between their names becomes a burden, shackling them together when perhaps they would be better off apart.
Set against the backdrop of Ross being diagnosed with a terminal illness, ‘Ross & Rachel’ makes you question the relationship everyone was rooting for…
As Rachel spends time couple-watching, guessing who will leave first, cheat first, die first, she laments on how she’s changed, how the relationship has changed, and how love is not about hand-holding and first dates, weddings and airport reconciliations… it’s about everything in between. The things nobody saw on television.
This is Horse Box Theatre’s first instalment in their Horse Box at Home series, and it’s promising indeed. Something is undoubtedly lost by being removed from the immediacy and intimacy of the action, by not seeing it live, sharing the experience with dozens or hundreds or thousands of others in real time and enjoying the inimitable buzz of live theatre…but something is arguably gained, too. A wider audience, perhaps, and a fresh, inventive way of approaching and presenting a piece, one that challenges both director and performer to find different ways to communicate than they would have used on stage.
What is clear, though, is that whatever its form – whether it’s a show like this one, an online concert or gig, a Zoom workshop, virtual audition prep, or clips of shows gone by – online theatre is a beacon of hope for theatre communities around the world. It’s a manifestation of the ghost light, a signal that we are still here, still passionate, still creating and performing… and we are not going anywhere.
Check out more online theatre to come this summer from Horse Box Theatre Company