The End Of Longing
The Playhouse Theatre
Matthew Perry is an actor cursed by a phenomenal success, in his case the ghost of Chandler Bing, and that was a persona always going to prove extremely difficult to exorcise. Ardal O’Hanlon has it with Dougal McGuire from Father Ted and Joanna Lumley with Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous, characters so memorable that an audience always struggles to see them act any other part.
Still, Perry wasn’t a man who let the shadow of his Friends character deter him from taking on the enviable and incredibly risky task of writing, staging and starring in his very own West End play.
Straight in at the deep end. Perry must have serious confidence in his ability, something which is essential in the notoriously harsh and fickle land of theatre.
So, with The End Of Longing currently running at The Playhouse, does Perry’s massive gamble pay off?
The first noticeable thing is that Perry has much of the audience in the palm of his hands from the off. There are some audible yelps as he makes his way to the front of the stage to introduce himself.
“I’m Jack” he says, as if warning onlookers not to even dare think of him as New Yorker married to a chef and spending an unhealthy amount of time in a coffee shop.
Jack, it’s clear from the off, is a massively messed up alcoholic, masking his demons with humour. A drinker who makes no apologies for it. A drinker overly keen to stress that he’s having a whale of a time. Knowing about Perry’s battles with drink and drug addiction in the past, it’s clear Jack is closer to Matthew Perry than any other character we associate him with.
Jack’s a big of a rogue, but a likeable one at that, and he soon attracts the attention of a high class hooker whose “executive horizontal liaison” role earns her nearly three grand a night. They get together, as do their best friends in the form of a gormless idiot man and neurotic woman panicking about nearing her forties and never having kids.
The set is design is slick and the changes between scenes are seamless. The laughs are frequent enough, but Perry’s Jack predictably becomes increasingly less likeable as he sinks further into alcoholism.
And so the story unravels over the course of a couple of hours. A disastrous night out, a pregnancy, a near death experience…
The highlight comes very near the final curtain call, when Jack stands up to talk at his first AA meeting. His passionate and desperate monologue would bring a tear to a stone, probably. Jack’s tired of living that old life, but doesn’t know how to get better, doesn’t know who he is anymore. It’s clear Perry draws very closely on his own battles for this monologue, and it’s the triumph of the entire production.
You might just be left wondering why Perry felt the need to inject humour into such a harsh and real struggle. For Jack, like Perry perhaps, the humour dragged him through and back from the brink.
A courageous offering from a man who has clearly put it all into the production – including his darkest days.
“Write what you know” they say, and for The End Of Longing, there’s no doubt Matthew Perry has done just that.
The End Of Longing is at the Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Ave,London WC2N until May 14.
Loaded’s entertainment editor Jennifer O’Brien is an award-winning journalist who has written extensively about popular culture as a national newspaper columnist and author. Follow her on Twitter at @Jen_OBrien1