Battersea Arts Centre, London – until 13 May 2017
What happens when the perfect couple gets together and stays together? Why, they live happily ever after of course… or do they? This isn’t a fairy tale, or even a sitcom. Ross and Rachel may have been the couple that defined a generation, myself among them, but that was 13 years ago. Has their perfect relationship stood the test of time? James Fritz writes an ingenious script that charters the reality of a happy ending.
For an hour, Molly Vevers singlehandedly paints an all too colourful picture of the couple – they aren’t mentioned by name, as names aren’t either needed nor important. It’s the little things that have got on each other’s nerves – they are always a package deal, never individuals; they ultimately have nothing in common; careers and personal ambition get in the way. Then of course there’s the “in sickness and in health” portion of the vows that everybody says but very few people experience. In this case, a brain tumour rears its ugly head and the added pressure that it adds to an already strained marriage is just too much to bear.
James Fritz writes a realistic solo piece that Vevers is more than capable of conveying on stage. Ross and Rachel is ingenious and brutally honest and, almost as an homage to its simplicity, Vevers grips the audience for an hour with the most effective yet basic of acting techniques. She doesn’t distinguish between the two characters (him and her) with any sort of accent or mannerism, which continues to reinforce one of the relationship’s key flaws – the couple are always seen as a “they”, but never as individuals. There are moments of laughter as well as moments of extreme sadness – Vevers effortlessly conveys them all through a somewhat demure and understated performance. This is an actor that lets the material sing by her natural storytelling capability, she lets the audience build up a relationship with both characters without needing to overly physicalise or use props to distinguish them.
Vevers starts off without pause, unrelenting in the dialogue that washes over the audience like a never-ending wave. It’s not aggressive, or even dynamic, but its constancy grinds the audience down into understanding immediately where the frustrations lie. Then, the bombshell is dropped and Vevers is animated; she raises her voice, she breaks down, she lies in the pool of water and wants to give up. Nervous ticks creep into her persona as the happily ever after crumbles before our eyes. Watching other happy couples makes them both sick and the promise of one spouse dying is comforting to the other, the idea that it can breathe new life into a stayed existence.
Fritz is very clever with his references to the popular sitcom that forms the core idea behind Ross and Rachel. Little details elude to the good old days – lobsters, mistaken vows, juice boxes and being on a break bring a smile to every fan in the audience. The ending takes on two different directions – he is hoping for it all to fade in the typical style of a series-ending episode, “The One With The Perfect Ending”, where the lights dim to rapturous audience applause. She has ideas of a happy life after he is gone. The script cleverly observes and capitalises on the falsity of the sitcom studio with maximum effect.
The beauty in this piece is the light and shade that is inherent in the dialogue, all of which are subtly and ingeniously brought out by Douglas Green’s design. This is a deceptively simple set-up – no more than six lights all in varying shades of white. A simple concept of backlighting maximises the impact through shadow; contouring emphasises poignant pieces of the script without ever shifting focus from Vevers. Green works with some potentially tricky other pieces of set too – a pool of water that naturally can reflect the design and some ritualistic candles that adorn the sides of the stage. The design takes all this into consideration and subtly accents all the relevant places through subtle, at times unnoticeable, transitioning.
Ross and Rachel – what a couple they were. Or are, if they are still together in sitcom land. Fritz offers up an opinion that is perhaps darker than people may hope, but is altogether more realistic of a relationship after the sheen fades. Vevers kneels in the pool as the lights dim and the blackout signals an enthusiastic applause typical of every episode of this sitcom – that’s a wrap folks.