It’s fair to say that the Playhouse Theatre has had one of the West End’s most varied programmes over the past few years, and its latest offering is no exception. The End of Longing is Matthew Perry’s debut outing as a playwright, which has just opened on the Embankment for a limited run.
Perry is an experienced writer for both the small & big screens, but his ‘novicehood’ in the field of stage writing sadly shows. To me, it has the feel of a sitcom – and would be much more suited to Perry’s usual territory, perhaps as a feature-length comedy drama. There are quite a number of very short scenes, all interspersed with incidental music; in the first act, very loud bars of funk-style muzak, replaced with single notes on the keyboard in the second, to try & reflect the change in tone. This makes things very disjointed, taking you out of the world Perry attempts to create just as you start getting into it.
This isn’t helped by the transitions between scenes. Anna Fleischle‘s set is beautifully designed – the bar, in particular, is striking – but it’s painfully slow-moving. Aside from some chairs, it is mechanised, which leaves it open to becoming cumbersome. A previous design of Fleischle’s that I’ve seen (Hangmen, at the Royal Court) also suffered in this respect, though thankfully that was a single transition.
Each character has a short monologue at the start of the show to introduce themselves – quite a clever move, I felt, but additional monologues that crop up later in the play are on the whole unnecessary, and don’t really move the story along enough.
The characters feel almost like 21st century clichés, if you see what I mean… An alcoholic in denial, a prostitute, a neurotic spinster & a straightforward but apparently stupid guy. All quite formulaic really. And as much as Perry attempts to develop the characters towards the end, it’s largely unsuccessful & rushed.
Only Joseph shows any credible evolution; Lloyd Owen‘s performance is warm & human. And he draws one of the big laughs of the night with his short but sweet introduction.
Christina Cole is quite convincing as Stevie, the 37 year old singleton feeling the tick of her biological clock. Of course she’s neurotic and on anti-depressants – so far, so obvious. Cole has great comic timing, however, and somehow doesn’t laugh out her prospective baby’s name…
Stephanie is the prostitute, and Jennifer Mudge does a good job with what she’s given. The lines aren’t particularly original or groundbreaking, but she has a good sense for comedy, which helps. Her interview scene later on is quite funny, but leaves you wondering how she was successful – realism takes a back seat at that point.
I think I’m correct in presuming that the bulk of the audiences will be there to see the writer & star (Jack), Matthew Perry. And if they had ambitions of ever seeing Chandler Bing in a live-action piece, then they definitely got it. It seems that Perry’s acting style defaults to Bing sarcasm at any opportunity. Whilst this was brilliant in Friends, it feels a bit lazy here. It also contributes to the feeling that it was a sitcom onstage – both from my experience of watching Friends countless times, and the style being utterly unsuited to stage acting. It’s not all bad; probably my favourite moment involved him with a martini in the first act, and his AA speech near the end was quite expectedly heartfelt.
The play also feels like it should have had its first performance somewhere other than the West End, to hone it properly before being shown to the world on such a presitigious stage.
My verdict? A production with some great visuals and laugh-out-loud moments, but ultimately lacking in depth and believability.
The End of Longing runs at the Playhouse Theatre until 14 May 2016. Tickets are available online and from the box office.