The End of Longing
There is every chance that Matthew Perry has written his theatrical debut with a very distinct audience in mind.
The man who was once Chandler Bing in Friends has created a sitcom that is likely to appeal to the cult show’s legions of fans, still enraptured a dozen years after the final episode was screened.
The world première of Perry’s debut play shows that the actor turned playwright also knows how to create a good part for himself.
While the three characters who surround Jack are little more than caricatures, the central figure is much more fully drawn, though he also succumbs to the mood of unreality.
The play opens with introductions from the quartet, all in the 35 to 40 age range, that swiftly set the scene. Jack introduces himself as an unreconstructed alcoholic, although he somehow managed to hold down a day job as a photographer.
As a former victim of addiction himself, Perry clearly knows how to inhabit and convince in such a role and the play’s main value lies in his portrayal of a man who recognises his weaknesses but feels unable to resist them.
American actress Jennifer Mudge’s Stephanie has been $1 million a year prostitute for a decade and revels in the role, although nothing about this sparky, intelligent character suggests that she is really a lady of the night.
Their best friends are also two-dimensional. Stevie played by Christina Cole is a career neurotic holding down a job with a drug company.
Last and definitively least, comes Lloyd Owen as Joseph, a muscular dunderhead who gets the lion’s share of the funny lines. He also makes a perfect foil first for Jack and then Stevie but mysteriously discovers a hidden vein of intelligence blended with borrowed OTT neurosis when the chips are down.
The plot sees the drunk and the hooker falling for each other at the same time as the hysteric and the bodybuilder in a series of comic vignettes that often feel more like a pilot for a TV show than a stage drama.
The inevitable rollercoaster ride has a good number of laughs, although the talents of the actors, under the directorship of Lindsay Posner, get far more than have been put into the script.
Each member of the quartet is skilled at creating the right vocal inflection or raised eyebrow to hit the laughter button, even when what they are saying is not funny.
After the interval, the evening becomes somewhat darker with the threat of a tragic ending but it would be bad manners to reveal what actually happens.
As the opening to this review indicates, Friends junkies will absolutely lap up what is generally a superficial comedy, enjoying every moment of the experience and wallowing in the chance to see one of their darlings in the flesh. Anyone unfamiliar with the TV series or looking for something deeper from a night out at the theatre will learn a little more than they previously knew about the perils of addiction but not much else.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher