Playhouse Theatre, London – until 14 May 2016
There’s a lot to be said for seeing Matthew Perry’s The End of Longing without Matthew Perry. Not only are you spared all the fans of Friends anxious to see ‘Chandler’ post his television career and addiction rehabilitations, you are also spared what one Olivier judge described as a ‘sweaty red mess’ who ‘shouted all his lines’.
You also get an unencumbered chance to evaluate the script: a four-handed contemporary American social comedy mainly about addictions and neuroses and the redemptive power of childbirth. It’s not Neil Simon, but it’s not rubbish either.
The characters introduce themselves in the first four speeches: drunk, whore, neurotic, idiot. Neat. Swift. Trouble is, that’s the End of Swiftness too since despite interminable and repetitive interactions mostly in bars or beds, they only move on from their fundamental flaws in the final scene.
Clearly the central character Jack is drawn from life and Perry’s self-congratulatory drunk and his confessional scene in AA signal authenticity and regret equally. If anything else is drawn from life, Perry must have made the acquaintance of some extraordinarily expensive hookers because Stephanie‘s introductory line that she charges $2500 an hour was met by snorts of derision from the Stalls. Given she’s probably on Equity minimum, even Samantha Coughlan herself smirked a bit at this.
If we’re measuring this as a first play, it’s good but not great but it makes you curious to see what he does next. Once the limited run ends in May, Perry should stick around in London to see how British writers develop from their first scripts, especially graduates of the Royal Court Young Writers Programme with brisker takes on urban middle class mores like Nick Payne (Constellations), Laura Wade (Posh) and Lucy Prebble (Enron).
If we’re measuring this as a set of performances, it’s quite good. Lloyd Owen brings experience and elegance to what could be a clod of a character or an American Tim Nice-But-Dim and his gradual progression from genial know-nothing to new man dad is subtly done and grafted a layer of credibility and depth onto what seemed otherwise a quartet of slappable ciphers. Coughlan takes the prostitute beyond the superficial writing and arms her with more than unconcerned defensiveness although for both her and Jennifer Mudge as Owen’s girlfriend the sugary second-act collapse into sentimental cooing over babies is so soapy as to defy decent acting.
As Joe, Jonny McPherson scores initially simply for not being Matthew Perry – but that’s not an insult, it’s an observation that through his performance you get a clearer chance to observe the character without the clouding of celebrity casting. His vocal modulations and sardonically snapped retorts are designed to ape Perry’s, or Chandler’s but not so much that an intelligent reading of the role is masked and his interactions with Coughlan and Owen felt realistic and equal. He’s probably more immediately engaging than Perry and you know – or hope – that he’s acting rather than recollecting being an alcoholic, and he certainly carried the audience with him through some distinctly dodgy behaviours. Nice work.
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