This is the second blog post that I will begin with a disclaimer about my love for a gent, which is bizarre. Regardless, I’m gonna put it out there; Matthew Perry has been a hero of mine since I first discovered Friends reruns on E4 many moons ago. Imagine my excitement, then, when an Easter Egg hunt on my favourite ticket app, TodayTix, gave me a £10 off voucher and a semi-legit reason to buy a slightly pricier ticket than my usual fare. I was buzzing.
This buzz quickly wore off when delayed trains made me late. An usher explained that I’d have to wait 10 minutes to go in. He even offered to recount what I was missing, which was, ultimately, more entertaining than parts of the play itself – he described the context, explaining that there were four characters – ‘the alcoholic one’, ‘the neurotic one’, ‘the stupid one’ and ‘the professional whore one’, even the characters sounded like Friends episodes. I asked him about his future career. It was all very fun. 10 minutes passed; the woman next to me gave me a dirty look and the gent in the seat in front had possibly the biggest head I’ve ever seen, but I was in. What ensued was a slightly confused and disappointing rom-com-drama.
The play was undoubtedly a comedy and many of the gags were genuinely funny, but some were just discordant and didn’t ring true. I think this was largely because the humour, and most of the structure of the play, was very much that of a sit-com. For example, short scenes running into each other, using, admittedly, clever scene/set changes, reminded me immediately of TV. Aggressive, context-inappropriate humour – another convention of sitcoms that have to be funny even in the most dire situations – were jarring in the dramatic scenes Perry created – making innuendos about blowjobs in the midst of a tense hospital scene was one such instance. It was clear this was meant to be a version of ‘gallows humour’, but it seemed out of place even within the surrounding lines. The treatment of Stephanie’s profession as the butt of all jokes, and the be-all and end-all of her character, skirts around misogynist territory; her prostitution, for example, and his debilitating addiction are placed as parallel vices, as if it is really that simple to equate or vilify both on the same level.
Much like the comedic elements, some of the drama and romance was genuinely moving, but sections of it just didn’t click. Perry’s depiction of alcoholism is painfully truthful, and the scenes in which his character, Jack, struggled with his addiction were incredibly powerful. But this strange sort of blurring between reality and drama was the only really truthful part of the play. The rest of the interactions between the characters seemed forced, each waiting patiently for another to finish in order to say (or shout, as was often the case) their line, and this cycle continued throughout. The characters lacked depth, each clinging to the defining characteristic my usher had outlined- alcoholic, neurotic, stupid, professional whore – and refusing to budge, like characters in an allegory. It was frustratingly stagnant and lacked drama; tripping casually over scenarios ripe with dramatic potential, like an awkward family reunion. Perry’s writing and performance as Jack, though at times, brilliantly ugly and truthful, was also littered with self-indulgence. A prostitute gives him ‘one for free’, a youthful model shows him her breasts after a photo-shoot, in one of his anecdotes.
Mr BigHead and his companions left during the interval. I stuck it out, and found a few gems in Matthew Perry’s heart-wrenching honesty, but there was little else of much merit. ‘The End of Longing’ seems like the rough first draft of a play, a half-baked slew of ideas and jokes that don’t quite fit together yet. Had ‘The End of Longing’ been submitted without Matthew Perry’s star-power behind it, I have a sneaking suspicion it might have made its way to the reject pile. I suppose this is the reason Matthew Perry is the sole focus or presence in many of the promotional posters – Perry is ten feet tall outside the theatre, his cast mates loitering at a minuscule distance in the background – and the entire advert for the show is him describing it. I loved Chandler Bing, and I think Matthew Perry is a funny man, but ‘The End of Longing’ is sometimes brave but mostly pretty mediocre.
As the play ended, Mr Perry and the other cast members took to the stage for bows and, despite all the discomfort and negativity I felt towards the play, I found myself standing with the rest of the theatre, feeling out of place still in my seat. After a few seconds, I sat down again, baffled at myself. Why had I given a play I hadn’t enjoyed even half a standing ovation? Why, afterwards, did I loiter fruitlessly outside the stage door for 10 minutes? The answer, I think, is the reason I haven’t been able to find a single negative tweet about the play on my travels, though most of the reviews are bad. We, the fans, all desperately wanted the play to be good, and we all struggle to accept that ‘The End of Longing’ is only on stage because of the star at the wheel.
The End of Longing is at The Playhouse Theatre until 14th May
Tickets available at: http://endoflonging.co.uk/ticket-info/