“I would rather drink alcohol than do just about anything there is to do on the face of the planet. I need it. I really need it. And I can’t picture a life without it.”
Well, it’s ‘The One Where The Guy Who Used To Play Chandler Is Now In A West End Show’, although if you’re looking for an episode of Friends, please stay at home and watch the repeats. This is more like a Neil LaBute play, with lots and lots of swearing. The characters could well have been from a LaBute play, too – none are particularly well-adjusted people, and it seems that The End of Longing is based on the premise that abnormality is more interesting and absorbing than normality.
Not that The End of Longing feels any longer than its running time – it’s simply a matter of taste. If you can stomach the zany characters and the effing this and effing that, the punchlines in the script are very much to be enjoyed. To be fair, the play does indulge in a moment of recognising there is too much strong language going on, but some lines will fall rather flat for the more intellectually minded. When Lloyd Owen’s Joseph introduces himself in the opening scene as ‘stupid’, for instance, he surely can’t be so, else he wouldn’t have the intelligence to know that he is. Either that or there’s a British level of sarcasm going on in this very American play. It’s so very American that Stevie (Christina Cole) wants to know what’s wrong with people that aren’t in therapy.
Perhaps, I thought to myself, I’m being too over-analytical and need to do what most people in the audience seemed to be doing: simply sitting back and enjoying proceedings unfold. But even this proved difficult, because just as I was getting into a particular storyline, yet another scene change would come along, accompanied by slightly overly loud rock music. The stop-start nature of Act One was, to be as blunt as the play itself, effing annoying.
But, stay the course, and while there’s no let-up in the number of expletives, Act Two is more comfortable viewing, insofar that the show stays in one place for more than it takes to microwave a ready meal bought from the supermarket. The narrative becomes deeper, too, as Jack (Matthew Perry) finally gets around to doing something about a two decades-long personal problem, and his relationship with Stephanie (Jennifer Mudge) goes in an unexpected direction, as does Joseph’s relationship with Stevie.
What of Matthew Perry’s performance? It’s stilted and clunky in the first half, if I’m honest, even if this is in the context of his character being the sort of man he is. Still, he seems to be shown up a little by his fellow actors on stage, and it is not until a powerful monologue well into Act Two that he fully convinces and has the audience enthralled; he does vulnerability better than brashness. He seems to be enjoying himself on stage, though, an aspect of theatrical performance that should never be underestimated.
I wasn’t exactly longing for the end of The End of Longing. If I were a person with a religious disposition watching this, I’d be rather peeved at the words ‘Jesus Christ’ used in a blasphemous manner over and over again, then thrilled at the deft sensitivity and honesty with which a heartfelt prayer from Joseph is portrayed. Being me, for that is who I am, while there’s not much in this play that I can relate to, I think the play deals with the issues of life and the facing of personal demons with a mixture of humour and poignancy. The script could do with yet more tightening. However, it’s a good debut effort from Matthew Perry, even if the play’s ending is a little too sugary sweet and implausible. But then the ending of The Comedy of Errors is just as conveniently tidy.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Internationally acclaimed actor Matthew Perry (Friends, The Odd Couple) leads the cast in the World Premiere of his playwriting debut, The End of Longing, at the Playhouse Theatre, London, from 2nd February to 14th May 2016. This fast paced, and bittersweet comic new play, will be directed by the critically acclaimed and award-winning director, Lindsay Posner (Speed-the-Plow, Other Desert Cities) reuniting the pair, following their first West End collaboration on Sexual Perversity in Chicago at the Comedy Theatre in 2003.
Meet Jack, Stephanie, Joseph and Stevie: four lost souls, entering their forties and searching for meaning. After sharing one raucous night together in a downtown Los Angeles bar, their lives become irreversibly entwined in a rollercoaster journey that forces them to confront the darker sides of their relationships.
A sharply written and hilarious dark comedy, The End of Longing, will make you realise that broken people don’t need to stay broken.
The End Of Longing – Matthew Perry
The End Of Longing
The Playhouse Theatre
Northumberland Avenue, London, WC2N 5DE
Booking From: 2nd February 2016
Booking Until: 14th May 2016