What would have happened to Rachel and Ross from Friends after the fairytale ending? How would their relationship fare with children, aging, restlessness, boredom, sickness, and death? These are the questions asked by James Fritz’s perfectly formed play, a one-woman duologue performed with forensic focus by Molly Vevers. She flits between playing Rachel and Ross; words bubble out of her lips in double-time, but with clarity and flair.
If the premise sounds ticket-floggingly cute, it’s worth saying that this is a thoughtful hour that requires no prior knowledge of the American sit-com (though it’s seasoned with little references that will be funnier if you grew up with Friends ever-present on E4). Fritz finds a truthful personal story, presenting the divergent inner monologues of a couple now in their forties – Ross increasingly possessive of his “prom queen”, near-obsessive over Rachel’s beauty, convinced their love is eternal; Rachel is stifled and frustrated, cuttingly cruel about her “really fucking boring” husband and dreaming of affairs. The gap in their perception of the relationship is blackly comic – and gets much more painful once Ross is diagnosed with a brain tumour.
In truth, Ross & Rachel is almost too cynical. Ross’s sense of ownership over a woman he supposedly loves becoming menacing, but Rachel’s complete lack of sympathy towards a dying man she’s spent her life with also strains belief; not even Ross from Friends is so annoying that you wouldn’t feel a tug of compassion if he was dying…
Where Fritz’s play really excels, however, is in simultaneously probing the myth-making we engage in in our personal relationships, and the myth-making pop culture romance peddles – ‘happy ever after’, ‘meant for each other’, ‘together forever’ – and how one informs the other. How sit-com clichés come to define real love-lives. Ross & Rachel takes a fictional couple, and makes them look like a real couple that’s spent too much time watching fictional couples. Which, in this world of endless Friends repeats, is something we can all recognise.