The End Of Longing: Will Matthew Perry Be There For You? Review

The End of Longing, Playhouse Theatre ★★★☆☆

By James FitzGerald Last edited 24 months ago
The End Of Longing: Will Matthew Perry Be There For You? Review The End of Longing, Playhouse Theatre 3
Jennifer Mudge and Matthew Perry as Stephanie and Jack in The End of Longing. Photo by Helen Maybanks

Is it for the best that Matthew Perry’s on the wrong side of the Pond, with a show to put on, and can’t make that loosely-defined Friends “reunion” that’s supposed to be happening later this month?  We’ve seen those new Top Gear promo pictures, and Matt LeBlanc’s jackets have got a decidedly daddish air about them nowadays.

It’s just that nothing’s ever really the same at a reunion, and you suspect that Perry knows it too. Written by and starring the man himself, this new play of his is all about where the Friends generation might have ended up in 2016: careening towards middle age faster than Joey Tribbiani hitting the test track in a Bugatti. In The End of Longing it will transpire, though, that although the people may have evolved a good 20 years, the writing might not have.

Perry plays Jack, an acerbic alcoholic looking his 40 years; a cocktail of Chandler Bing’s self-loathing wit, and Perry’s own, occasionally troubled, autobiography. After a night out in an LA bar, Jack sleeps with, and then falls for, high-class prostitute Stephanie (Jennifer Mudge). Both practise self-delusion, confessed to us through the fourth wall: he, the “professional drinker”; she, the “executive horizontal liaison”. And as a couple, they manage to confuse blossoming love with a mutually convenient deal which allows each to carry on their own self-destructive “thing”.

Their respective mates are nice-but-simple Joseph (Lloyd Owen) and neurotic Stevie (Christina Cole); the latter a Monica Geller written for Generation Tinder. Seemingly incompatible, the two in fact have an on-off relationship, which is brought into focus when Stevie falls pregnant. Her biological clock ticking, she’s delighted — if a little horrified. After all, Joseph is nice, but really, pretty simple. He doesn’t even have a therapist!

So, both plots are about flexibility in relationships at a time in life when you’ve got to get a move on with things, but may have become rather entrenched in your habits. For Jack and Stephanie, it’s a question of recognising that chaotic lifestyles are best cured as a twosome; while Joseph and Stevie need to appreciate each other’s differences. Awwww, the audience might well coo. Light and breezy, and with these marked character types heading in obvious directions, The End of Longing embalms us in the warm 50-tog duvet of a schmaltzy telly sitcom.

One which happens, of course, to have been plonked on a West End stage. The set transitions even look a little like Friends — nighttime skyscrapers filling the backdrop, and flashes of funk-pop here and there. Perry’s newfound five o’clock shadow notwithstanding, it’s impossible to see beyond Chandler: the repartee is constructed to invite snappy, sarcy retorts from the show’s star man.

But all four personalities are lively enough to make some hackneyed lines sound at least half-meaningful, and certainly funny in parts. It's not high drama, but it'll sell. It might all sound no more real than Friends ever did, all those years ago, but as Perry’s character cackles as he knocks back yet another drink, “life — I never touch the stuff.”   

The End of Longing runs until 14 May 2016 at The Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue, WC2n 5DE. Tickets from £15. Londonist saw this performance with a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 15 February 2016