Bright and early in the morning of Thursday 12th May, I got up and ran over to Embankment to the Playhouse Theatre to get a couple of day tickets to their current show The End of Longing, which is written by and stars Matthew Perry – you know; Chandler from Friends.
The show opened in February of this year, and gained quite a bit of attention for being the reason behind Matthew not being able to attend the Friends reunion due to rehearsals. While a full cast reunion would have been amazing I actually think it was a big old move: this is a guy who will be known as Chandler Bing for the rest of his life, and he distanced himself from it extremely publicly. While he has moved onto some other great roles (hello 17 Again), with Friends being the iconic show it is the cast members will forever be attached to it. Some have excelled; most notably Jennifer Anniston who has appeared in some twenty five different projects since including major films such as Marley & Me, Horrible Bosses, We’re The Millers & her critically acclaimed performance in 2014’s Cake. And not bashing any of the other actors, or saying that they all now hate Friends, but I think this big step into becoming a playwright is a really huge thing for Matthew Perry.
For a comedy, it is startlingly honest and frankly ballsy as a debut play. It’s humour centres around the four character’s main personality traits or aspects of their lives, which are all presented at the start in individual monologues. Jack is an alcoholic, so his jokes centre around things such as making martini’s on the bench at a baseball game; Stephanie is a prostitute so a lot of her jokes are about “blowing old guys”; Joseph is stupid, which is pretty self explanatory; and Stevie is a little neurotic – so her jokes are often about therapy.
It’s not the typical subject matters of a West End comedy, which is probably why it has the entire audience consistently laughing to the point where the actors had to stall their lines.
The play only features these four characters (with the exception of a hand from the wings that served drinks in bar scenes). It’s typical boy meets girl for two sets of friends; a pair of female best friends get involved with a pair of male best friends. They each have their own character’s signature ‘thing’, that all spar off each other really well.
First is Stevie. She is frustrating to watch, but that’s exactly who the character is so you absolutely have to hand it to Christina Cole for making the neurotic so likeable. Stevie is very much the person who’s life is not going as planned, and is constantly on edge and complaining but there is always the vulnerable side that Cole brings out that makes you completely routing for her happiness. This is completely juxtaposed by Joseph.
Oh Joseph, the idiot with a heart. He isn’t well read and he doesn’t hold a great deal of general knowledge at all but he is smart in what he wants and how he feels, and how he treats other people. He’s a really gorgeous character, and Lloyd Owen plays him so well that he makes your heart hurt a little bit more every scene as the play progresses. His stage presence with Christina as Stevie is actually really brilliant, and their differences provide a lot of the comedy. Some might even say that Owen is the real breakout star of the play.
And Jennifer Mudge as Stephanie, the self proclaimed ‘whore’ was really just brilliant to watch perform. She utterly brings the out professional drive and caring heart in the character who is presented immediately as being defined by her career. It would have been easy to play the character as a two dimensional prostitute with one best friend and unresolved daddy issues but instead she brings a real spark to the stage, and her presence with Perry as Jack is electric at times. I really can’t speak highly enough of her performance.
The highlight of the entire play is the monologue performed by Matthew as Jack towards the end of the second act. It was brutal, and really beautifully portrayed as the alcoholic admitting he needs help. It felt almost too personal to watch. It was undeniably great acting, but also a lot of the emotive response as an audience member could have come from the knowledge of Matthew Perry very public battle with alcoholism and drug addiction in the late nineties and early 2000s. He had a few stuns in rehab and has been in recovery ever since, and moved on to become a spokesperson for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals; and also received a Champion of Recovery award from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in 2013 for opening Perry House, a sober living home situated in his former mansion in Malibu, California.
I said earlier about the constant comedy, and the constant laughs The play is full of one liners, something very much Matthew Perry’s forté and as Robyn puts it: “so Chandler!”. And yes this play is described as a ‘dark comedy’, but the play does discuss really hard subject matters that I felt didn’t need the comic relief. Without it intact the scenes could been quite beautiful even. Also, the expanse of comedy made some members of the audience laugh at things that were not jokes; touching moments were tarnished by people laughing at it as they for whatever reason failed to grasp the full meaning of them.
The scenes are broken down and each individually highlighted, separated each time by a set change and music composed by Isobel Waller-Bridge. It’s quite choppy because of this, but I think it only elevates the sitcom style is has to it, and intact, almost feels like a very self conscious parody of a sitcom. The set design helps with the separated scenes immensely; it’s simple yet perfect at translating a big city feel to a small stage which I think is exactly what designer Anna Fleishle was trying to convey. There are three main locations in which the story takes place: a bar, Stephanie’s home, and a hospital. Other scenes simply use the empty stage, with seating or a wall projection to show where the scene is held. It’s minimalism just gives the idea of the location really effectively, and ensures the focus is just on the acting. This is probably most notable again in Jack’s monologue, which features only three chairs placed in a curve yet immediately conveys a circle of people at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
The show wasn’t given very good reviews at all my critics, but I think that that’s just them reviewing a play. To me, this was a brilliant first exploration in playwriting, in social commentary and self reflection.
All in all, the show was immensely enjoyable. I wasnt ever un-entertained, and it did grip me. I was also with my best friend in a good mood with cheap tickets watching Chandler from Friends. We went to see The End of Longing as theatre-lovers and Friends-lovers with no foresight at all to what the play was about, and with no idea what to expect it did turn out to be a really fun night out that made us both very happy: and I even think it may have been the same way if it wasn’t a Matthew Perry show. The actors all brought such life to the characters, the set was effective and the writing very different from anything I’ve seen before.
I will remember it very fondly.
The End of Longing has now finished it’s run in London’s West End, but is moving to New York in the near future. Check their website for more details.