The playwright and director Miranda Larson tells us about bringing everyone’s favourite sextet of friends to the stage in a new musical.
Hi Miranda. What’s your new musical Friendsical all about?
Well, it’s a loving parody of the iconic American TV sitcom Friends. Basically it follows Ross, and retells the story of his and Rachel’s relationship but with the support and the ins and outs of the other characters along the way. We cram 10 years of story into just two hours!
When did you have the idea for a Friends stage show?
I can’t take credit for the idea, I’m afraid. The producers were mulling it over and I happened to be working with one of them at the time. He had a very casual conversation about it with me and I reacted with: “Oh my God, this is an amazing idea. You’re not allowed to ever speak to another writer about it again”. That was in October 2018, so it’s been a really quick process to create a new musical.
Were you a Friends fan before you started working on Friendsical, then?
We’re all massive fans of the show – the cast are, the crew are – we started rehearsals every day with a Friends quiz, and playing YouTube of the Friends episodes was a daily occurrence. I’m a first generation fan, so I have watched it for 25 years and I still laugh at the same gags.
How difficult was it to choose what made it into the musical?
I just treated it like an adaptation. When you adapt a book it’s not about leaving stuff out, it’s about making your story work. That’s the only way to look at it otherwise you drive yourself crazy trying to fit everything in.
Because I’m a big fan, things came to me naturally. I wasn’t researching something I didn’t know. I started in a very boring way by thinking, “What story is it that we are telling?” Then I texted very close friends of mine and said: “Tell me your top 10 Friends moments.” I just started making a list. When people found out I was working on it they’d ask, “Have you got this or that moment in?” So I was constantly making lists and adding to them.
There are things that have ultimately been left out and characters that aren’t seen because the show’s only two hours long. It’s difficult. I’m pretty sure there’s enough in there. I can’t think of any big moments that we’ve left out… and I can’t really think of any small moments either.
What’s your favourite Friends moment?
One of my favourite episodes is getting ready for the dinosaur convention, which is the second half of our show. The first half is set on Games Night which is inspired by the boys and girls playing for the apartment. But I think, in terms of moments, it’s the reference to “We were on a break”. How they feed that back in season after season, it’s just genius.
Why did you decide your Friends parody should be a musical?
I felt a musical was the right choice for the story we’re trying to tell, and I’m a huge fan of musicals. I think it was, for me, about just differentiating us from the TV show. There’s no point in us trying to do the same thing. We want to be a celebration. We just want people to smile and clap along to the songs. They all reference the 90s; some are very obvious parodies of songs and some are very subtle.
How tricky is it for the actors to play well-established and well-loved characters, but also bring some of themselves to it?
It’s been a challenge for them because it kind of goes against everything you’re taught at drama school about owning a character and doing what you want with it. There’s a level where we want them to bring something new and refreshing to it, but at the same time, if they’re not recognisable as those characters then you’re not a parody of the show. It’s been challenging, but they’ve all worked so hard. I’m really proud of them.
How important is it that the show is touring all over the UK?
I’m a big fan of touring. I think different spaces create challenges and keep it fresh because you have to adapt. I like the creative side to it and the challenge that touring brings. We also want as many fans as possible to be able to enjoy it. That’s what touring offers. You get round north, south, east, and west with it.
Why do you think so many people love Friends?
I think it goes back to how relatable watching people hanging out is. We all do it and we’ve all got groups of friends. Whether it’s at a pub, a coffee shop or somebody’s house, just hanging out talking about life is so relatable.
Will audiences who don’t know Friends enjoy the show too?
Absolutely! For somebody that doesn’t know the TV series it will just be a really funny story, but for fans there are also references literally every time you blink. Being a parody, we’ve played with the timelines, so things don’t necessarily happen in the order that you expect. And we acknowledge that throughout the show. Monica doesn’t like it because she’s very neat and organised, and Joey, well, he just doesn’t understand it.
The 2019 Edinburgh Festival smash-hit, Friendsical, returns to the stage in 2020 on an extensive UK tour, opening at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley on 20 February 2020.
Following Bromley, Friendsical continues its 2020 nationwide tour visiting: Poole, Peterborough, Cardiff, Guildford, Huddersfield, Leicester, Oldham, Bradford, Coventry, Dartford, Harrogate, Sheffield, Crawley, Aberdeen and Northampton. Further dates will be announced in due course.