So let’s get something straight from the off. Matthew Perry’sThe End of Longing, which opened in the West end this week, sees our Friend Chandler playing a committed alcoholic. He is at pains to stress that the part isn’t autobiographical but it’s easy to imagine that it could be.
But what a dark horse this Hollywood star is. The End of Longing is well-written and well-observed. It is probably what Friends could have matured into if the group had continued to hang out together – and swapped the coffee shop for a downtown bar.
Funny, blackly so, sharp and delivered in acidic soundbites more familiar to TV sitcoms (I don’t think any scene lasts longer than a couple of minutes before we cut to the next), it is a play running on anger, passion, and lust with lines frequently spat out in a verbal combat.
Perry has written an engaging, heartwarming (yes, you will go “aaah” in a slushy way), honest look at four messed-up late-30 somethings searching for love – and it’s a real treat. I loved every second of it. Director Lindsay Posner, who has worked with the star before, has crafted a fast-paced and winning bitter-sweet urban comedy.
But the poor man can’t get away from Friends no matter what he does. His past haunts him whether he’s aware of it or not. One of our characters – a high class hooker – tells everyone she works in Calvin Klein (Friends Rachel worked in Ralph Lauren) and another, Joseph, is self-confessed stupid, utterly lovable and with a pretty spectacular physique (there’s a blink-and-you’ll miss-it money shot). Sound familiar?
But with everything that has appeared from Perry in the press and in TV interviews – addictions, breakdowns, lots of rehab – you can’t help thinking that writing The End of Longing, which he produced after an incredibly creative 12 days, must have been somewhat cathartic. There’s certainly a compelling story arc which won over my preview audience.
The End of Longing begins with a monologue from the cast, starting with Jack (Perry). He declares and affirms his love and devotion to vodka – or beer – or whatever alcohol is to hand. He says that he loves booze more than women, more than life. Stephanie pouts, postures a little, and defiantly declares: “I’m Stephanie and I’m a whore.” That brought the house down.
Jack’s a mess. It’s a mystery how he can function as a professional photographer, much less get up in the morning. Unshaven, slovenly, slurred. Who’d want anything to do with him?
He’s propping up a bar in Los Angeles waiting for his dumb lug of a mate, Joey, sorry Joseph, to appear when, showing the mark of a true and confident lush, he thrusts himself between two beautiful women sitting in a nearby booth.
By an incredible coincidence one of the women, Stevie (Christina Cole), a neurotic, highly educated, 37-year-old who sells sex-enhancing pharmaceuticals, had just been bitching to her pal, Stephanie, that she’s been stood up by this hunk with barely a brain cell between his ears.
Cut to the next morning and we see the start of a fractious and unlikely relationship between the whore and the drunk and, in another apartment, a shocked Stevie waking next to a bemused Joe who doesn’t what to talk about what just happened until he has a cup of coffee.
Is there hope for any of them? And is this what life is like nowadays for singletons?
Jennifer Mudge makes an attractive tart with a heart with her tumbling blonde curls, a ready quip and disarmingly frank comments about her job. She’s unashamedly proud of her $2,500 an hour work as a hooker, a salary that allows her a comfortable lifestyle living in one of those city apartments that you read about in design magazines. Both her and Perry have charisma by the bucket-load which charms the pants off us all.
But Perry, the playwright, has under-written Joseph. We learn little of Lloyd Owen’s character, it all saved up for one speech to god, and it doesn’t give us much insight into who he really is. Stevie, though, is comedy gold and Cole is given a free rein.
The End of Longing is a real delight and impresses with its maturity and one-liners. When the curtain came down on my performance I think the majority of women in the audience would have liked to have given Matthew Perry a motherly hug. It’s not bad for a beginner.
The End of Longing runs at the Playhouse Theatre until May 14.
The End of Longing
Hollywood star Matthew Perry makes his playwriting début with a funny and utterly charming West end romcom about a troubled foursome looking for love in The End of Longing.