When: 18 - 23 September 2018
Where: Theatre Works
Written by: James Fritz
Directed by: Faran Martin
Performed by: Jessica Stanley
Despite it's sitcom provenance, content warnings apply. He has a tumor and she is at the end of her rope. Unlike the television show, Ross and Rachel does not have a happy ending. Or does it? It's all a matter of perspective I guess.
Last week, in my review for Alone Outside, I said I do not enjoy just watching people on stage talking - it is not theatrical enough for me - so you may be surprised to here me say there is a lot I liked about this performance despite so many similarities with the other show. On the surface it is a single person on stage with a square white floor and a footstool.
If you look deeper, though, it is evident why this show works so much more successfully. The first and most successful choice by Martin is the decision to play Ross and Rachel in the round. This forces Stanley to keep moving and work hard to create and maintain contact with the audience.
The second difference is the minimalist form of the production matches the non-natural writing so that Stanley becomes a conduit for a torrent of ideas, not the only fragile link. Fritz barely writes a complete sentence in Ross and Rachel. Conversation flits from moment to moment, idea to idea, and character to character with out waiting for all the words to emerge. Ross and Rachel are always together - neither of them have an identity separate from each other - and Fritz explores this idea not only in the characters and their stories, but he echoes it in his fragmented, unfinished interior monologues and dialogue.
It is unfortunate that Faran and Martin have decided to perform the play the same way it was done at Edinburgh Fringe, choosing to not work to differentiate the characters. For me this was the main failing of the show. What it meant was it takes a while to understand the form and I spent a lot of my mental energy during the rest of the show trying to keep track of who was speaking at any point in time. Naturalism has its place, but not in a non-naturally written play.
There are actually many characters in the play and I don't mean to infer Stanley should go to great clownish lengths - although Ross in Friends was a clown character so... A change of voice here, a slight shift in posture or an identifiable mannerism there would have done the trick.
You might think I am being picky, but Ross and Rachel is a fast paced roller coaster ride of ideas, relationship complexities, and difficult life moments all crammed into 60 minutes. I loved the pace, I just would have liked to have a clearer idea of what was going on at times.
Kudos to Stanley. Ross and Rachel is a marathon and not for one single second did I feel she was not in control and she never let us leave the story. I also really loved setting it in the round. Not only did it demand energy and movement and creative decision making with regard to staging, it also made us, the audience, confidentes in this incredibly private and detailed examination of a relationship in deep decay.
Ross and Rachel is perhaps not what you would expect from the title (and I would have enjoyed stronger performance references in the first part of the play), but it is definitely a work dealing with a side of relationships we rarely admit to and has a refreshing honesty which is actually the hallmark of the sitcom Friends. Beneath all the jokes was always the layer of the ugly side of humanity and Fritz has engaged with this completely.