Friends Fest

Set 2

The One Where Opening Night Goes to Friends Fest

It is while we sit – gridlocked in traffic and debating whether Jennifer Aniston herself may put in a surprise appearance – that I first realise my expectations of Friends Fest may be set (slightly) high.

Little wonder when the show itself is chiefly responsible for every misplaced fantasy about adulthood I have been nurturing since it first aired in September 1994. Approaching 40 (could I BE any older?), I am sadly neither living in New York, nor working as an executive at Ralph Lauren, but at least I’m not sitting in a boat with only a chick and a duck for company yet

Heady with the promise of unfettered access to replicas of the iconic sets and original costumes from the show, as well as ‘Smelly Cat Karaoke’ and the chance to recreate the ‘umbrella’ title sequence, we have set out for Heaton Park.

Once there, it is no easy task to find the festival itself, which is signposted with a single A4 sheet taped to a lamppost. Therefore, my first tip is: follow the steady flow of people clutching ‘Friends’ merchandise bags, of which there are A LOT.

Set 3

The outdoor festival site is a bit of a mud bath thanks to the frankly appalling weather and the lack of any matting/straw/sawdust under foot. Tip number two: don’t wear your fanciest clothes or footwear; raincoats and boots or wellies will be your best ‘friends’. (You can always, if you wish, purchase a branded ‘Friends’ umbrella for £15 from the merch shop.)

Tip number three: head straight to the Chick & Duck Bar and get on the cocktails. The fun menu is (naturally) ‘Friends’ themed, with ‘The One with Rum/Vodka/No Hangover etc.’ options available, as well as a good selection of wines, beers and spirits. Suitably lubricated, we then head out in search of entertainment.

Sofa

‘Friends’ episodes play on a continual loop on the giant cinema screen that dominates the main open-air arena. With the rain pelting down, sadly the plentiful rainbow-coloured chairs and tables are universally empty. (On a warm summer’s day, this will no doubt be an idyllic place to sit and chill – especially with the bar and plenty of food stands close to hand.)

As it is, we head to the nearest covered stand, which just so happens to be the Central Perk set! We plonk ourselves straight down on the giant orange sofa for our first official ‘Friends’ selfie before wandering round – marvelling at being ‘on location’. If you wish, you can pick up a guitar and perch on Phoebe’s stool for a blast of ‘Smelly Cat’, and even take Gunther’s spot behind the counter.

A coffee bar overlooks the Central Perk set, where you can purchase a beverage for around £3.50 and sit and marvel at the attention to detail involved in recreating Comedy Central’s most beloved coffee house. (Thankfully – unlike Rachel – the pleasant staff will get your order right!)

We then head off to sit on another giant orange sofa in front of a fountain backdrop… Twirling our umbrellas, it’s a real thrill to pose for a title sequence photo. (Tip number four: set your phone to your Boomerang app for added fun!)

Then there’s a lull while we wait for our turn to visit Joey and Chandler’s apartment set, and Monica and Rachel’s apartment set. In sunnier weather, we’d have filled this time with fun photos in the outdoor ‘Vegas Chapel of Love’ and ‘Highschool Prom’ booths, which have their own dress-up wardrobes. As it is, we check out the ‘Moondance Diner’, ‘My Sandwich’ and ‘Mockolate’ food stalls, which provide plenty of ‘Friends’ themed culinary experiences for prices of around £5 and up.

Set 1

Before entering the apartment sets, there’s an amazing opportunity to see show costumes ‘in the flesh’, which is not only a genuine thrill, but confirms that Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox are as teeny tiny as you would expect! Our hands-down favourite is the ‘Holiday Armadillo’ costume Ross wore to surprise his son Ben when he couldn’t hire a Santa suit. Equally fun are the never-seen-before memorabilia and props from the show, which include ‘Smelly Cat’ cat litter, Joey’s VD poster and the ‘Geller Cup’ – a Troll-adorned trophy Monica and Ross fought to win during family touch ball games.

Next, Joey and Chandler’s apartment… This is the show-stopping moment we have been waiting for, and it is with the biggest, silliest of smiles that I seat myself in the Lazy Boy chair – ready to ‘draw’, twiddle with the foosball table and acquaint myself with The Boat. Opening the apartment door, we find ourselves in the familiar hallway before circling the set to enter Monica and Rachel’s apartment.

It is a surreal experience to be in a kitchen that feels somehow more familiar than your own, and it is with real affection that I run a loving hand over the surfaces and furniture – reminiscing about the 85 hours of bona fide belly laughs the show delivered. Sadly, there is no Ugly Naked Guy to poke through the window, but – that aside – it really is all credit to the Friends Fest organisers that they are bringing such a unique, nostalgic full-scale set experience to fans across our country.

Costume

With the sets visited, all that remains is to head to the merchandise shop. You can buy branded everything, from aprons and door mats to T-shirts, notebooks and wall art. A Central Perk mug will set you back around £12 to £15, while a beer glass is a tenner.

We were able to cover most of what the festival has to offer in under an hour, as it is, essentially, a series of photo opportunities; however, when it’s open to the public, expect queues and take note of the allotted timeslots available to visit the sets.

Is Friends Fest the ‘ultimate ‘Friends’ experience’? For some superfans, in the right weather conditions, it will be, but others may find it more ‘mockolate’ – a synthetic substitute of something truly beloved that somehow misses the mark.

Friends Fest Manchester is on at Heaton Park until Sunday, 13 August. Tickets are now sold out, but dates are available in Essex between 1-10 September. Visit http://www.friendsfest.co.uk to book.

Reviewed by Michelle Ewen

 

 

 

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz Image 3

It may be August (although looking out the window you’d never know) but that hasn’t stopped Regal Entertainment Limited returning to Stockport Plaza with their sparkling summer panto, fan favourite, The Wizard of Oz.

Starring the much loved Cheryl Fergison of Eastenders fame, The Wizard of Oz is a high energy, action packed, family fun show which delivers first class entertainment for all ages. The traditional panto booing and shouts of ‘it’s behind you’ that we all know and love feature, as well as some brilliantly choreographed routines and hilarious performances. There’s just the right amount of cheeky jokes for the Mum’s and Dad’s in the audience as well as lots of giggles for the little ones and plenty of opportunities to sing along to much loved classics and have a boogie to lots of recent favourites too.

The Wizard of Oz Image 1

Cheryl Fergison leads a fine cast firstly as Miss Windy Bottom (much to the hilarity of the audience) and secondly as Eva the Witch. She portrays the perfect baddie, bad tempered, witty and of course totally wicked! Fergison is joined by a very strong cast who each deliver great performances. The casting particularly of Scarecrow (David Heath), Tin Man (Philip Shaun McGuinness) and Lion (Si Foster) is perfect, each give keenly observed performances and are immediately likeable, engaging with their audience and making great fun companions to Dorothy (Maddie Hope Coelho). Coelho delivers a fine performance as Dorothy, firmly doing justice to Somewhere Over The Rainbow with her incredibly beautiful voice she is most certainly a worthy wearer of the ruby slippers.

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As our cast follow the yellow brick road to Emerald City they’re guided along the way by the glamorous Glinda (Olivia Sloyan) who speaks in rhyme and isn’t afraid to get messy with the rest of this wonderfully talented cast.

This great production will have you wishing it was panto season all year round, laugh out loud funny, highly entertaining and most of all jolly good fun!

On at the Stockport Plaza until Saturday 12th August

 

Family Fun this Summer at The Lowry

Room on the Broom

credit: KW & NB Ltd

Throughout August The Lowry are running a ‘Non-stop Summer of activities’ and Opening Night thought we would head along with our mini-reviewer Daisy to spend the day experiencing all they had to offer.

First stop for us was Room on the Broom, a wonderful family show from Tall Stories theatre company. It is a musical adaptation of the worldwide bestselling children’s novel by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler and its arrival at The Lowry follows on from the company’s successful run with their version of The Gruffalo last year.

Fans of the book will be familiar with the tale being told in rhyme and it works perfectly here, with a number of original songs added for extra entertainment. With the duration being just over an hour it also suits the age it caters for (which is 3 years up) keeping them enthralled from start to finish.

For those uninitiated with the tale it follows a jolly witch and her cat on their ‘broom’ adventures. Directed by Olivia Jacobs and designed by Morgan Large every box is ticked in bringing this novel from the page to the stage.

The Witch, played brilliantly by Amy Harris, and her cute cat (Emma Crowley Bennett) are travelling on their broomstick when they pick up some friends along the way – an excitable dog, a green bird and a crazy singing frog. But the broomstick is not meant for five, let alone one, and it snaps in two with hilarious consequences just as a fire breathing dragon appears!

David Garrud and David Bloom add the main comedy and energy to the show, as the extra puppet characters who sing and bound around the set at every opportunity, much to the hilarity of the young audience.

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‘Mini-reviewer’ Daisy has her pen and paper at the ready for Room on the Broom!

Mini-reviewer Daisy (7) was enthralled from start to finish and she loved singing and clapping along to the audience participation songs. The whole show is good family fun full of laughs and surprises as the energetic cast of four produce larger than life characters and perform with all the puppet characters seamlessly.

Following on from Room on a Broom we checked out the dining experience in The Lowry’s ultra-modern restaurant, Pier 8. Throughout the summer children eat free with a paying adult as long as there is a children’s show on at the theatre at the time. It’s the perfect place for a pre or post show meal and the staff were lovely, in particular Rob our waiter.

We ordered the 6oz burger with the added extra of garstang blue cheese and Daisy opted for fish and chips with an ice cream sundae to follow and us, a dreamy rhubarb creme brûlée. It was a great meal and ticked the boxes for choice for adults and children in the perfect setting.

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One very excited child at her free kids meal in Pier 8

If you want to make a full day of it, the fun doesn’t stop there, The Lowry has lots of activities running throughout August for families, from storytelling to drawing and dressing up. We walked off our lunch by visiting the art gallery upstairs and seeing some of the LS Lowry paintings along with getting involved with some of the free creative workshops on offer.

If you are looking for somewhere where the whole family can enjoy a day out then you can’t go wrong this summer with paying a visit to The Lowry.

www.thelowry.com

Room on the Broom runs until 27th August at The Lowry