As we walked into the Brian Friel Theatre and took our seats, we were greeted by a freeze frame. Our favourite Friends characters sat on either side of a bathtub, under purple iridescent lighting, anticipating the attention of the audience.
At 8 o’clock, the lights went up, revealing a sky full of suspended coffee cups, credit cards and leaves, bringing the audience into the autumnal New York scene that is so characteristic of the show. Suddenly, Ross and Rachel come to life, played by Tom Davis Coleman and Orlaith Feenan Ferguson. They brought to life the characters we know so well in all of their flawed yet lovable glory, giving the audience some nostalgic laughs through their comic bickering: “We were on a br…” “don’t even say it!”.
Ross and Rachel is a play based around the cult-loved sitcom Friends, but with a dark twist. It is no secret that the characters in Friends are as complex and flawed as real human beings, but while the show exacerbates their quirky qualities to form a comedic narrative, Ross and Rachel deals with the more troublesome parts of their personalities to show the perils of a dead end relationship perpetrated by the expectations of others, to which we the audience are held accountable.
While Ross is charming, intelligent and caring he is also extremely possessive of Rachel and exhibits alarming streaks of jealousy throughout the play. Ross and Rachel really takes this issue and runs with it. Coleman frequently says “She was a prom queen and she belongs to me!”. While he loves Rachel, it is clear that this love manifests itself in her objectification, shackles that she finds hard to shrug off. She becomes a part of him, an extension of his success. She mourns the loss of her independence, dreaming about her time as a young woman living alone and resents her name coming second in emails addressed to them both.
The pair are presented with a moral conundrum. Ross receives a terminal diagnosis, just after Rachel is on the brink of ending their relationship. The audience are forced to ask themselves, what expectations are placed on Rachel in this situation? And is she morally obliged to adhere to them?
Orlaith’s performance allows us to truly feel how trapped Rachel is in this situation. She laments her life, and lost dreams of working for the fashion industry in Paris that were ultimately stifled by Ross in the show. However, Rachel is not the victim in this situation. We are reminded of her neuroticism and selfishness as she neglects Ross in his illness, failing to acknowledge that some things are bigger than others. She engages in an emotional affair with a man from work long before Ross gets his diagnosis. She doesn’t take responsibility for her own happiness, and blames her situation on Ross.
Without spoiling the show for those interested, the combination of these traits in the pair cause their relationship to take a dark turn. Rachel’s failure to make Ross feel secure and loved cause him to devise an insane way to cosette his jealous ego, unable to deal with the fact that Rachel may find love again after his death. His proposition came as a shock to the audience, but truly showed us the danger of his entitlement he feels towards Rachel. He fantasises about how the situation will play out, and the dramatic methods employed by Simon Gibson are ingenious in depicting this. The lighting changes again towards the soft purple, almost rose tinted lighting with romantic music playing. As Ross fantasises about what Rachel will say to him, Tom ventriloquises through Orlaith who mimes what he is saying, showing that Ross is not paying heed to Rachel’s wishes in this situation, obsessed with his own.
Once the fantasy is played through, the lighting returns to the bright, harsh stage lights where we see Rachel standing, shell-shocked and terrified. Ross tries to assure her that it’s the perfect ending to their story, and the audience is faced with their own hand in the situation. By showing the characters in the medium of drama almost a decade after its end, we see that Ross and Rachel maybe were not best suited, but Rachel was awarded to Ross as a trophy for being a “good guy” and was ultimately robbed of the life she should have had. Rachel almost rejoices in his eventual death, a jarring end to the play as she looks out on how she will spend the rest of her life alone.
The performance of the players was stellar. They managed to evoke extreme visceral reactions from the audience through the sheer force of their acting on a bare minimum set. We felt love, but also resentment, fear and disgust. We felt relief when Ross died but also sadness at the loss of a much loved character in pop-culture. No doubt every audience member will view Friends in a different light because of Ross and Rachel, a viewing pleasure and a moral minefield.
Director: Simon Gibson
Stage Management: Caoimhe McGee
Movement Design: Lauren Wedgeworth and Calum McElwee
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