Remember Friends? Remember how we all used to watch it, quote it, and style our hair like the characters? Well, it’s back on TV, this time on Comedy Central. And to mark what at first glance would seem like a rather underwhelming announcement, the cable channel offered up one of the most inventive events of the year.
Using the decadent and exclusive ‘The Box’ in Soho as a venue was a shrewd way to encourage an ordinarily cynical media crowd to arrive excited and full of expectation. From the moment we arrived we were whisked into a special world, and the attention to detail in terms of both service and décor was a leap above most other exclusive London venues.
The stage was set and comedian Rufus Hound warmed up the crowd with a set of shockingly crude jokes, which went down a treat. And then the main event was geared up to begin – Friends the Opera! On first hearing what was planned, I have to admit that I didn’t hold high hopes, but when the show began, it was love at first sight!
Dawn Porter and Chris O’Dowd were amongst the invited guests © Jon Furniss
6 actors had been hired for two weeks of rehearsals for a special one off performance of ‘Friends the Opera’, a distillation of the best known quotes and storylines into a musical narrative with a focus on the romance between Ross and Rachel – a love story for our times.
It was all in there, from the moment Rachel first arrived in Central Perk wearing her wedding dress, to Phoebe singing ‘Smelly Cat’ to Janice’s nasal guffaw – transformed into an operatic masterpiece. Familiar phrases such as ‘We were on a break’ were used as the basis of musical numbers, and obscure yet pivotal characters such as ‘copy girl’ made appearances to remind you how things all fitted together.
The performances were incredibly strong, you were never in any doubt of which character was which. In particular, the role of Rachel (played by recent Royal Academy of Music graduate Helen Woolf) was incredibly endearing and she convincingly portrayed chemistry between her character and that of Ross.
Mark Gatiss and his partner came to see the show © Jon Furniss
The performance reminded me just how significant Friends had been to me growing up. I suddenly recalled how I had obsessively watched every episode on VHS, and I say this in complete seriousness, it is the reason I talk like I do. It was such a large part of my formative years that it literally shaped my Scottish/American accent to this day! It also reminded me of the significance of the show more widely, as audience members shouted out remembered lines and phrases, showing how deeply it had impacted a generation.
The evening’s entertainment concluded with drag act Kandi Kane Baxter, who again, exceeded my expectations – arriving with phenomenal energy in an outfit constructed from a glitter ball, accompanied by the opening bars of ‘It’s raining men’. Her witty banter was perfectly pitched for the audience, who were already in great spirits.
I felt very privileged to have been invited to the evening, especially with the knowledge that the entire 50 minute Opera was written to be performed only once. I hope to see the cast take the show to the Edinburgh Festival; I’m sure this was not the only audience who found themselves thrilled to be transported back to the mid-90s for an evening of reminiscing.
Turning Friends into a musical was a tricky, almost ridiculous concept, but one which managed to breathe fresh air into the show as it was executed incredibly well. Now I want to watch all the old episodes again – precisely the outcome Comedy Central were hoping for.
Visit the Comedy Central Friends site here