My friend Alice and I had been building up to Friendsfest for a while, typing various exciteably girly squeel type words on Whatsapp as the day drew nearer. We are the sort of Friends fans that take those Facebook quizzes and gloat about our impressive scores. We are pretty sure the majority of our vocabulary comes from quotes and phrases from the show. Alice even gets an item of Friends merchandise every Christmas from her brother. We were there from the start, way before it became a show that was repeated all day on Comedy Central. We were the first wave of kids who attempted the Rachel cut, and who learned what they thought it was like being a twenty something from the 6 stars of the Channel 4 show.
Alice and I had a nervy tummy as we drove to our early slot at Chiswick house. It was the fear that we wouldn't be allowed in (we'd had a bit of a mare with our tickets) or that it wouldn't be all that we hoped it would be...combined with an embrassing level of excitement. I don't like to overstate, but it had to potential to be the BEST DAY EVER.
So I'm going to take you through our day in the order we did it and tell you what we thought of each part.
Joey and Chandlers
The famous entertainment system that Joey made while wearing those very skimpy jeans, the hockey stick that locked Joey in the cupboard, the etch a sketch, the Laurel and Hardy Poster - it was all there. The fact that it wasn't in it's own room stopped it from feeling genuinly like their apartment though - it ruined the magic a little bit .
We made sure we made that blissed out noise Chandler and Joey make when they recline their Lazy Boys.
We tried very hardto imitate chandler and Joey look forlorn in the canoe after all their stuff was stolen but we kept getting giggles.
Alice's brother Lawrence made me promise I wouldn't post any of his pictures on the net, but as the majority of his being is actually cardboard Ross I think I can get away with it.
Re-enacting the Intro
Before you enter Monica's apartment you have an opportunity to be part of the Freinds intro. It's hard to create the same impact with just two of you, but the staff member on hand is there to help direct you and suggest various poses you could do with the umbrellas.
She was very patient and didn't rush us, and although she struggled a bit with my camera, she definitely put in the effort and was definietly trying to make sure everyone came away with a cool picture. To make it even better, as an added extra it would have been cool if they had studios where they filmed you recreating the full intro in video form.
We'd been panicing for the last few days that we wouldn't get in to see Monica's apartement as our paperwork differed to a friend who had attended before us. Monica's is the only set that requires a time slot and for some reason even though we were given a time slot of 11am, we didn't appear to have any paper proof that we were meant to have access to it. I tried to contact the PR's and Alice contacted the ticketing place, but they proved to be very unhelpful. Luckily when we arrived there was no issue whatsoever. After getting our main tickets checked we just had to pick up a little laminated ticket from a little box office which had a time specified on it. We then had to join the corresponding queue.
We look like we're the hosts of a new breakfast TV show, but no, here we are sitting at Monica and Rachel's kitchen table. I like to think those are some of Monica's cookies she made when trying to discover Phoebe's grandmother's recipe....but perhaps they're the gross ones she made using mocklate. By the way, if it looks like I'm holding on to the mug in a rather awkward manner it's because they were stuck down to the table. Probably quite a wise move, I can imagine they'd bepretty desirable for those wanting to sneak something away from their day at Friendsfest.
This became one of the most iconic interior details. I mean, who doesn't want one of these?
If anyone knows where you can buy one of these let me know. I reckon these should have been in the merchandise shop!
The details are the kitchen were fantastic - from all the American snacks and condiments, to the utensals and tins. There were things we had never noticed about the kitchen that we questioned, but after googling images they were spot on. It was very impressive.
If you've watched my YouTube channel (or know me in real life) you will be aware of one of my biggest personality flaws. I'm incredibly (disgustingly) messy and live in complete squaller most of the time . I could offer you the reasons and excuses but this isn't the time, nor the place. Alice is my real life Monica. It actually a miracle we are good friend considering are different approaches to living and well, hygiene. There's no way we could leave the aparment without standing outside Monica's messy cupboard, the one place in her life she abandons her OCD tendancy's.
Another part of Monica's apartment that is part of one of the most memorable periods of Friends History. I remember on first viewing we were so jubilant that Ross and Rachel's will they won't scenario had finally been resolved, only for him to ruin it with THAT list, featuring that awful dig about her 'chubby ankles'. Rachel is looking out of the rainy window (pathetic fallacy) when Monica suggests putting on the radio. U2's With or Without You the soundtracks Rachel's gloom, after Ross calls into the radio to request it and apologies - we still liked U2 back then. We think we see her face come round to the idea of forgiving Ross and we believe she is about to call Ross and sort it all out, only to discover she's call the radio to explain what a dingus he's been.
It's obvisouly (and quite rightly) an extremely popular event, but because it is timed it means that it isn't ever too manic in the rooms, so there is time to get some nice snaps and really soak it all in. Although you do have to be prepared that other people will be photobombing in most of them. Of course if it was up to us we would have liked to have had a proper sit down in the lounge, played a game of pictionary, or even our own trivia quiz in the same vein as the one Ross invented when they were fighting to keep their apartment.
The one shot we really wanted to nail during out visit to Freindfest was one on the couch in Monica's apartment. Unfortunately we didn't quite manage it and this captures what was the most frustrating this about the event in general. They had staff who were there to take pictures and direct us round the various sights, but unfortunately they weren't particularly skilled in taking pictures. When we looked at many of the pictures they'd taken, many were blurred, with heads or important aspects of the set cut out of shot and so on. I get it, they have a lot of people to get through, and it's very unrealistic to expect them to be able to use every camera or phone that is handed to them. It's also naive to imagine they'll be able to capture an image that successfully ticks all the boxes of that given person. It just seemed a shame to come away from such an Instagram worthy event, with sub par photographs. The shots below would have been so much better straight on with the person crouching to ensure it also captured a good view of the kitchen behind. More on this in my overall summary....
Could we BE any happier?
Bye Bye Birthday - I know someone who gets just as erratic as Monica during a game of Pictionary...not mentioning any names, but you know who you are!
Next up is probably the second most antiscipated part of Friendfest, the iconic cafe Central Perk. It was one of the most used sets aside from Monica's apartment. That's not a fact, but a guess on my part. Whatever, it became one of the most recognized F.R.I.E.N.D.S visuals. I can't have been the only one who watched them have their amusing conversations over coffee and wondered how they always managed to secure the sofa, the prime spot in the place, (apart from the episode where Ross and Chandler get bullied). That would never happen in real life, we'd always end up having to sit right by the loo. Not only a regular venue for their catch ups, and introductions to the people the characters were dating (as well as some amazing cameos by the likes of Robin Williams and Isabella Rossalini) it was one of Phoebes places of work....well, we say work, it was indictaed in the episode with Chrissie Hynde that Phoebe was essentially just granted permission to sing there rather than being hired.
Although over the years my favourite Friends character has swapped and changed, when I was young and when you were still waiting every week for that new episode (hard to imagine now) it was Phoebe who initially captured my heart. I was considered a bit of a hippy and ever so slightly eccentric, so it was inevitable that I would be drawn to, and even compared to Lisa Kudrow's character.
Although the thought of singing in front of strangers in a cafe, even if they were more interested in crullers and cake, is pretty much my idea of a nightmare I couldn't resist getting up on that little stage by the window and living out my Phoebe Buffay fantasy. We thought Smelly Cat was a bit too obvious, so very quietly impersonated her sexy phlegm from the steller track Sticky Shoes.
When Alice and I were kids we actually had the idea that one day we'd have our own cafe, called Alice and Sophie's Cafe. I know, imagination and interllect clearly hadn't kicked in it! I must say I felt a bit of a thrill putting on the racing green apron and stepping behind the counter. I just wish Gunther, or at least a peroxide haired lookalike had been there to give us instructions about cleaning the coffee machine.
This set didn't quite deliver as much as as Monica's apartment. There were a few inconsistencies and inaccuracy's that slightly through it off - it was pretty good though. There were just little things that could have made it feel more authentic and less set-like. The table in front of the sofa could have been covered in newspapers and magazines, or cups and saucers, to make it feel like it was a coffee shop being used and frequented by customers. They did have a live singer that popped in every so often, but it would have been great to have it thoughout, or at least have Phoebe's music playing in the background. The seated areas at the back didn't feel quite how we remembered them to be either. But to make the areas more fun perhaps there could ahve been Soap Opera Digests left on tables or other artefacts that conjur memories from the episodes and scenes within Central Perk.
The Silent Disco
Again, it just felt a bit lackluster. Unfortunatly because we had an early time slot we were the only ones in the room. This was great in one way, because we could make sure we got the pictures we wanted with the best backdrops and could dance like goons without being too self conscious. However we missed out on a lot of the fun aspect of silent disco that you are gifted with a room full of people. I love seeing everyone dancing with complete abandon, and taking off my earphones to hear people singing along, very badly, to all the different songs being pumped into their ears.
That said, when you've got Aha's Take on Me and one of your best pals, you're still gonna have a blast!
Las Vegas Wedding Chapel
We had to queue for a little bit for this photo session, but it was definitely worth it.
The wait didn't feel long because we felt enteratined throughout, watching the people before us having fun posing in their weddding dresses and roman helmets. I say people...it was the men that were particularly amusing to observe. Most of them got themselves into the dresses far more quickly than their female partners. They looked extremely comfortable and actually looked rather sad when it came to having to take it off.
The best moment came when a female and male, who the photographer presumed were a couple, were encouraged to kiss for the photo. She coudln't have looked more revolted at the prospect of touching lips with her male friend.
I didn't think this pose through. Why am I on my knees trying to imitate a proposal when clearly we are already in a chapel in wedding dresses???
Again, the member of the staff was extremely patient, and she was really good at advising on poses. She was even willing to film a Boomerang video for anyone that wanted.
These ended up being our suprise favourite shots from the day. I can't imagine looking happier on my actual wedding day!
Hopefully I'll have a better fitting dress though!
Moon Dust Diner
A short stroll from the chapel was the Diner based on where Monica worked during a low period in her chefing career. There were a couple of actors in costumes that would appear every so often, but it would have been great to see more regular performances like the mortifying ones she had to do on the counter to YMCA in that particular episode. It would have been fun to have a jukebox to be able to request a performances too.
We had a really fun morning, are faces were hurting from all the smiles, but there was plenty that could have been more spectacular about the event.
We had some delicious food from Mac n Cheese stall, but it seemed to me there was a bit of a missed opportunity here.
Could we not have had stalls recreating some of Monica's famous dishes perhaps. What about the birthday flan, her famous marinara sauce, thanksgiving dinner, her various mocklate creations (there was a milkshake on one of the stalls though). They could have recreated one of the restaurants she worked at for instance. While we're talking food, what about Joey's and Ross's love of sandwiches? Think how many times NY pizza featured in an episode too....whether it was when Ross was hitting on the pizza delivery girl with her new boyish haircut, or Rachel clogging up the trash with her pizza boz....or Joey just eating copious amounts of it.
I also think there were more sets that could have been built just so that you felt you could get more out of your day and the cost of the tickets. What about the beach house in Montauk? Which would have been a fabulous addition particularly considering this festival falls during summer. What about an opportunity to live out the flashback episodes and dress in 80's garb? I would have actually have liked to have had Monica's apartment and the boys linked by a corrider because so much happened inbetween their homes - eating cheesecake off the floor, one of the most famous Ross and Rachel embraces, being locked out on Thanksgiving, the running between the two when Rachels parents had split up and they had to put on two surprise parties. So many big moments happened in their dirty hallway. What about Phoebe's yellow cab or their van they use for their catering company?
There are so many other amazing set's or artefacts that would have added so much fun to the experience.
My gripes are similar to those I had with Dirty Dancing Secret cinema. There were so many things, given just a bit more thought and attention that could have been turned from satisfactorying to incredible. With these sort of events, it's all in the detail. Those things turn it from feeling like weak imitation to making you believe you are really there, one of the actual characters in an episode of Friends.
There should have been more actors on site perhaps. Maybe you'd meet Pete at the Diner, or like I said earlier, maybe Gunther can pass you your aprons at Central Perk. Maybe not for all ticket holders but perhaps that could be opportunities to do extra things...like film the entire intro or recreate a favourite scene on set. You get the idea.
The main difference for me would be adding professional photographers to their staff. Perhaps at each different station they have a photographer who zaps a code on your ticket takes your pictures on their professional cameras that then goes direct to a database (or even a social media page). In the long run it would be quicker for them, they woudldn't have to attempt to use everyones different phones and cameras, and everyone would get very good photos to then share on all their social media channels.
They have a stage which shows clips of Friends. I know myself and Alice as well as the people around us felt it would be more fun if they played actual episodes, then you could grab some food and chill out and watch one inbetween set visits. They had a host on stage every so often doing quizzes with people and such- like. This was a tough job and he did his best, but it didn't quite come off. I feel like the stage could be utilised in a better way. It would also be fun if they played some of the Freinds Bloopers or some behind the scenes footage we haven't seen before.
That's just a few negative things that I thought were worth flagging up - not to be critical just to warn those attending and to give them realistic expectations, but also to guide the team behind it in case they can work on these things for future events. Despite it's flaws we had a super time and it really is a must for any FRIENDS fans.
P.S I imagine most of the above didn't happen due to budget issues, health and safety and other legal regulations, but also the fact that it is a touring festival.
P.S I imagine most of the above didn't happen due to budget issues, health and safety and other legal regulations, but also the fact that it is a touring festival.