Matthew Perry has written a comedy about four singletons nudging 40. If you are drawn to it because of his years as Chandler Bing, then you are unlikely to be disappointed. The lugubrious charm, immaculate timing and withering stare that formed his armoury in Friends are all very much in evidence.
Perry also stars as Jack, an alcoholic who manages to hold down a job as a top photographer despite viewing the world through the bottom of a glass and being permanently blotto. Caught in his orbit are Stephanie (Jennifer Mudge), a high-class hooker, her best friend Stevie (Christina Cole) who dabbles in pharmaceuticals, and Jack’s buddy and self-confessed idiot Joseph (Lloyd Owen). Yes, his name is Joseph — and one can’t help but draw comparisons with Perry’s Friends wingman Joey Tribbiani.
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The first act of Lindsay Posner’s slick production is made up of several short scenes and direct addresses to the audience with dialogue that is frank, razor-sharp and often very funny. Most of the best lines fall to Perry (come on, he’s the writer), but there’s fine support from Jennifer Mudge.
But just about halfway through, you sense that Perry the writer starts to feel the need to prove that he has more to him than an adult, very sweary episode of Friends and so takes the plot off into more serious territory. While the wheels don’t exactly come off at this point, things begin to swerve and meander as though Jack was driving, which of course, he is.
This tragic turn fails to hit home. Characters who we warmed to when they were making us laugh turn out not to have the depth that Perry clearly wants them to. The heart-wrenching speeches fall flat and, while there are still laughs, the humour has an even more cynical edge than it did at the start.
I wasn’t longing for it to end, but Matthew Perry’s first foray into playwriting certainly needs a bit of editing. And yes, you can’t help wondering if a shorter version would work well on TV.
The End of Longing is on at the Playhouse Theatre until 14th May
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