Guest reviewer: Stephanie Watkins
After the past year, Friends fans truly have been spoilt for choice for new content and activities, from “Friends Fest” around the country, to the big reunion, and discovering that Ross and Rachel were, in fact, real. However, someone we don’t often hear about when talking about the sensational six is who some consider to be the seventh friend. The man behind the coffee and presumably the “reserved” sign at the table, Mr Gunther CentralPerk.
And so that brings us to FRIEND (the one with Gunther), where we follow Gunther through his recollections of the time in the coffee shop, replaying special memories that, let’s be honest, we’ve all seen about 60 times each and yet are still just as charming.
However, this play is a bit of a head scratcher. I’ll explain in the following 18 pages, front and back. Or – on second thought – maybe we’ll keep to the abridged version. Brendan Murphy is the brains behind this one-man show. The only way to describe him is like a modern day Jim Carey; his energy ricochets off the walls of the theatre in which we watch him (either in person, or from home). If ever there was a man to try and tackle this show, it’s him. He is this show’s lobster.
That being said, the show struggles to find its feet a little at the beginning. We know who Gunther is, we know everything that happened and can probably recite an embarrassingly high percentage of the script from memory, so it’s exciting and intriguing to see where Murphy is going to take this. The first half is quite a fair bit of set-up, followed by more set-up, and then the same again. Some of the storylines are over-explained a little to a room of people who likely have at least had the show on a lot in the background.
The second half of the show is generally much funnier. It is really clever, especially with the song parodies that are complete gold. And I do mean pure gold – it’s not often that I watch online theatre and cackle as if it were in-person, where I imagine it’s completely electric. But it is still brilliant to watch via the streaming platform.
I really cannot wait to see where Murphy goes next. This is one of the rare occasions where the actor outshines his own material. Despite its shortcomings the script is still great, especially since it’s a tough job to live up to the most successful sitcom of all time, but Murphy is a master of his craft in terms of performance. Definitely a bold valley to travel down, Friends fans should explore this nugget of not-so-guilty pleasure watching.
FRIEND (the one with Gunther) tours through November.
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