Over the years Heads Up Festival has developed a partnership with Battersea Arts Centre and is part of the  Collaborative Touring Network, which takes the work of BAC to theatres all over the country.  Michelle Dee catches the first night of two performances of the Motor produced Ross and Rachel, at Riverside Theatre.

For a generation growing up in the nineties the name ‘Ross and Rachel’ immediately conjures up images of hit U.S. sitcom Friends, featuring a cute cast who would all go on to become household names; including Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Anniston). There will they won’t they storyline, kept millions of viewers glued to their set every week.

This award-winning play by Olivier nominated James Fritz, presents Ross and Rachel’s perfect life a few years on, then drops an almighty bombshell: Ross has a brain tumour. The cracks appear, doubts and demons reside just below the surface, as the twisted story becomes ever darker and more desperate.

This is a love story; or a story about love; or a story about relationships; or a story about how we relate to a loved one. Mona Goodwin, plays the two characters of Ross and Rachel in a mesmeric one-woman duologue. The writing and performance is as engaging as it is disturbing.  A superb display by Goodwin of characterisation and voice control.

The opening five minute of relentless, breathless duologue sets up the the perfect Barbie and Ken trophy couple and a spin on the idea of one partner always speaking for the other; speaking over her: speaking about her as if she’s not there.

The quick-fire verbal sparring between them is somehow more intense, more intimate than if it was between two people on stage. That intimacy may have something to do with the staging: with the audience sat either side of a candlelit pool – with actual water in it – centre stage and the rest on the front rows, the drama playing out in the round: essentially all becoming the couple’s well-meaning friends group.

Much of the story, how you understand the two sides, take place inside the mind, not so much fantasy  but the inner monologues that play out in all of us, but usually remain unsaid. By going inside both his and her mind we get to understand their emotional state, their motivation, hopes, fears all the pleasant and unpleasant thoughts we have about a loved one.

Ross and Rachel is about the suffocating straightjacket of perfect coupledom: like staying together for the kids’ sake. Fritz purposefully lines up all the romantic cliches from every boy meets girl story, all those tired romcom tropes and takes a sharpened scythe to the lot.