Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: Ross & Rachel, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Billy Barrett.
Part edgily moving monologue, part sophisticated fan-fiction, this startlingly inventive new play by James Fritz imagines Ross and Rachel’s relationship a decade or two after the final episode of Friends. He’s still a university professor, she is perhaps wishing she hadn’t got off that plane to Paris. Or maybe they’re just two people who happen to share the names of TV’s favourite couple; certainly the Scottish Molly Vevers, who voices both partners in this macabre comic piece, doesn’t Americanise her delivery or attempt a Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer impression.
Fritz might riff on the enduring tropes and catchphrases of the Central Perk gang, but this is far from sitcom territory; a slowly disintegrating marriage is put under terrible tension when the palaeontologist develops terminal cancer. What was affectionately quirky in the well-loved series becomes bitterly dark here; Ross, Rachel realises, has always been an obnoxious bore – and why do they have to be “Ross and Rachel”, never “Rachel and Ross”, anyway?
Vevers’ performance, which has already won her a Stage Award, is like an act of spiritual possession: intense and concentrated as she slowly submerges herself in a tub of water lit by a ring of candles, the significance of which slowly and horrifically dawns. The sudden escalation of dramatic stakes isn’t quite believable, but this is forgiven in director Thomas Martin’s sombre staging which has the ritualistic, seance-like quality of a painkiller-addled nightmare that you might have in hospital after a Netflix binge.
Ross and Rachel does for Friends what Anne Washburn’s 2012 play Mr Burns – in which the survivors of a nuclear apocalypse attempt to recreate episodes of cartoons – did for The Simpsons: it makes the trashily familiar profoundly strange, using popular culture as the shared narrative reference point through which we understand ourselves.
Assembly George Square Theatre (Venue 8) until 31 August
Published in The Scotsman on 22 August 2015
Main image: Alex Brenner
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