Poor old Matthew Perry has received rather a roasting from many of our ‘main’ critics following the opening of his first stage play, The End of Longing at The Playhouse Theatre. Aren’t they being unduly harsh? It may not be the greatest play in the world, but it is enjoyable, even to those who haven’t just ventured into the theatre to see Matthew Perry in the flesh.
Whereas one of these professionals stated that ‘Friend Chandler Bing’s’ attempt at penmanship is an ego trip, I’m inclined to think the opposite. Surely writing for the stage and opening it in London is a brave move. After all, he is probably very aware that there will be many keen to knock down a cast member of one of the most successful and popular sitcoms of all time. ‘An American sitcom progeny penning a remarkable play, don’t be absurd!’.
Perry has written for tv and The End of Longing does have the feel of a sitcom script performed on stage, rather than a theatrical one. There is rather too much tell and not enough show and lots of rather disjointed short scenes, but, despite that, it is watchable and well acted ….. and, let’s not forget, at times very amusing.
A four hander, The End of Longing concerns Jack (Perry) an alcoholic and his burgeoning relationship with Stephanie (Jennifer Mudge) a high-class prostitute, plus her neurotic friend Stevie (Christina Cole) who is seeing, kind but dim Joseph (Lloyd Owen). All the characters are very lightly sketched with no back-story to speak of, but we do care about them and their relationships. Will Jack and Stephanie’s strong sexual attraction become the lasting relationship that Stevie and Joseph’s is turning out to be?
As Perry’s problems with addiction have been well documented, casting himself as an alcoholic is a smart yet brave move. Smart, because he knows first hand about facing and conquering his demons and brave because knowing and showing are two very different ball games. In the event his performance, most especially when confronting his alcoholism, and facing the self-loathing this brings, is very honest. And the speech he gives at the AA meeting is very affecting. If this is a personal catharsis, no matter, it is extremely moving.
Of the other three actors, they flesh as much as they can out of their characters, with Lloyd Owen fairing the best as Joseph. At the beginning,
his character’s announcement to the audience that he is “stupid”, belies a hidden warmth and humour which Owen fleshes out as the play progresses.
Anna Fleischie does a great job with the cool, trendy bar and apartment set which easily transforms into a hospital and Lindsay Posner’s direction is suitably efficient. So, whilst the play is clichéd in parts, on the whole it delivers an enjoyable night at the theatre, which is, I am sure, the result Mr. Perry is striving for.
Ignore the nit picking crits and sample a ‘Friend’ showing he can act, even if you didn’t ever watch him in action in Central Perk.