One of the worst things about being a famous American actor from a highly successful television series is that everybody remembers you in a particular role and if you come to the West End in a play where you are the writer and one of the stars, then the comparisons with your famous alter-ego really come out, along with all the comments about Hollywood actors coming over here, taking starring roles in a cynical bums on seats maneuver by producers and theatre owners. So let’s dispel all that from the start. Yes Matthew Perry used to play Chandler in “Friends” but his new play The End of Longing getting its world premiere at The Playhouse has nothing to do with his old TV show and, far from just being a crowd-pulling name, Matthew can act and act extremely well.
The End of Longing starts off in a rather nice bar where the four characters introduce themselves to the audience. First up is Jack (Matthew Perry) a guy who likes a drink in the same way as a banker likes his bonus – often and don’t let anyone know how much. He has a simple philosophy on life and is always early when meeting a friend so that he can get a few in without the friend realising he has. Next up is Stephanie (Jennifer Mudge) a glamorous and highly successful prostitute. Stephanie is calm and self-assured and apparently rather good at her chosen profession – I’m not personally sure what the going rate is but $2,500 for the first hour and $1,500 for each hour thereafter sounds successful to me.
Next, we meet Joseph (Lloyd Owen) who has the shortest introduction of them all, just one line and finally it’s Stevie (Christian Cole) 37 years old, working for a pharmaceutical company, constantly worried about the famous “biological clock” and is just on the right side of being bat cat crazy. These aren’t really four random people: Jack is good friends with Joseph, while Stephanie and Stevie are best buddies and as it turns out, Joseph and Stevie are sort of dating – though as he hasn’t texted in four hours Stevie is entering panic mode about their relationship.
Anyhow, the four of them seem to hit it off well and form two couples – well sort of. Without going into detail, with the exception of Joseph, none of the group are sure they are definitely with the right person. As events conspire to make them face themselves and their choices in life, all four will need to do some serious thinking about where they are in life and what they really want out of their limited time on the planet.
One of the posters I have seen describes The End of Longing as ‘the funniest play of 2016’. Now, given it’s only February, that’s quite a claim to make but I can definitely say, it’s the funniest play I have seen this year so far and it’s going to take a lot to top it. Matthew Perry has written a very witty play with some fantastic comedic elements. However, it isn’t all laughs and there are a few scenes in the second act that really move the audience – well definitely this member – to tears. There is a particular scene with Joseph alone in a chapel which was really heartbreaking to watch, thanks to the combination of great writing and superb acting. With a small cast, such as this, there is no room for error in the performances and all four are highly believable in their individual roles and also their interactions with each other. It was amazing how quickly I went from thinking ‘oh look there’s Matthew Perry and three other actors’ to really knowing and caring about the four characters on the stage. Though I have to say, there was one anomaly that has been bugging me ever since I saw the show.
Without giving too much away, I couldn’t imagine someone like Stevie getting into the life altering situation she did unless it was deliberate, and that is not the impression the writing gives. However, this is a very small niggle and, let’s be honest, we all sometimes do something completely out of character so it can be forgiven.
Designer Anna Fleischle has made fantastic use of the rather small stage of The Playhouse to create a very contemporary feeling and flexible multi-location set and Director Lindsay Posner has put together a very tight show which shows off the skillful performances brilliantly. My one gripe was the music used during set changes which whilst being modern just didn’t really sit well with me.
To summarise, if you go to The End of Longing hoping to see Matthew Perry doing a re-run of ‘Friends’ then you will be disappointed. The End of Longing is a nicely written and superbly delivered play about people and the choices they make. The language is crude in places and the subject matter is really emotional at times so that by the end, as you leave the theatre, you can’t help but appreciate what a great show this is. Currently it is on a limited run but hopefully someone will extend it very soon. If not, then I recommend you get your tickets for The End of Longing as soon as you possibly can.
Review by Terry Eastham
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