Will Matthew Perry ever not be Chandler Bing from Friends? True, it’s always difficult for an actor who’s so ingrained in our memories as a certain character to play anything else. Yet watching The End Of Longing, you get the sense Perry was just playing himself all along.
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As he stands and delivers his lines in almost deadpan fashion, his rhythm seems off as his attempts to project to create a volume all on one level. There’s little that’s naturalistic about his performance, it’s just another stylised comedy character – Chandler all over again. He does eventually warm into the role, later delivering a speech at an AA meeting that’s genuinely moving, garnering applause from the audience that proves his worth beyond his celebrity status.
Really, though, he’s let down by his own poor material, this being his debut as a writer. The End Of Longing is essentially The One With The Alcoholic. Perry plays Jack, a gruff, abrasive man addicted to drinking and sex. The messy stubble, though, can’t quite cover that charming Perry grin, so he never quite pulls off the role. Jack stumbles across two blondes in a bar: sexy, confident prostitute with daddy issues Stephanie (Jennifer Mudge) and the fidgety, neurotic Stevie (Christina Cole). As it turns out, Stevie is dating Jack’s “stupid” friend Joseph (Lloyd Owen). Two unlikely couples form – obviously – and when Stevie unexpectedly finds herself pregnant, the four friends’ lives are tied together.
They’re complete stereotypes with little depth and predictable storylines. The play begins with each character introducing themselves to the audience and from there they hardly develop. Owen, Mudge and Cole all offer enjoyable enough performances that feel more believable than Perry’s, but even they can’t rise above the clichéd one-liners they’re asked to spout.
With its short scenes that comprise little more than amusing anecdotes, the play feels more like a staged sitcom. Anna Fleischle’s modern design gives the sense of fast-paced urban lives colliding with its sliding sets, whilst Isobel Waller-Bridge’s funk soundtrack plays over scene changes for an equally modern yet televised feel. Ultimately, The End Of Longing is frothy, shallow and doesn’t make much of a point beyond nobody’s perfect but we’ll all find love anyway. One character even says “life isn’t that complicated” and in this idealised, simplified world, he’s disappointingly accurate.
Then again, Perry isn’t exactly trying to write the next Closer. Yes, his play is a self-indulgent vehicle for himself, but there’s something endearing about this theatrical rom-com. It’s a fantasy, cinematic world where love conquers all – warm and soppy, if far from challenging. Not bad then, for some light Saturday night entertainment, but the sort of thing you’d expect to watch at home, on screen, under the covers with a tub of ice cream – or maybe West End and chill is your thing?
Reviewed by Ed Nightingale
The End Of Longing is playing at the Playhouse Theatre until 14 May 2016