While Matt Perry maintains his debut West End play is a long way away from Friends, it’s hard to avoid comparisons, and while it’s not entirely autobiographical, it’s clear he must have drawn from his own experience as a heavy drinker.
Chandler of Friends fame has morphed into Jack, and in place of his pal Joey, we have the nice-but-dim Joseph (Lloyd Owen). They meet two women in a bar – glamorous, high class prostitute Stephanie, (Jennifer Mudge) and her neurotic friend Stevie, (Christina Cole) who is more of a Bridget Jones type than a Phoebe, Monica or Rachel.
That makes four, so only two thirds of the six-strong cast of Friends, but a quartet is all it takes for the accompanying harmonies, discord and occasional key change.
Freed from the confines of TV sitcom to create comedy drama with an edge, the script’s over-indulgent use of the F-word makes Perry seem like a naughty boy letting out a torrent of expletives on the bus ride home from school. If director Lindsay Posner made him put a pound in the swear box for each one, he’d use up all his pocket money.
Having survived years of alcoholism, admitting that there are three seasons of Friends he barely remembers, Perry has now created a character who is a loud and embarassing drunk – which is not, he insists, the kind of drinker he was, begging the question: What kind was he? The embarrassingly quiet and morose one?
The first half gives Jack plenty of opportunities for wisecracks, often made at his own expense, so he can do himself down before anyone else does. The second half delves into more serious issues, with fewer laughs, including the show’s best line, coming as welcome light relief from the heavier dialogue about life, the universe and the compromises required to sustain a semi-functional relationship.
Perry is fine as the slightly damaged, intelligent, sensitive one, wishing he could be more like Joseph, who enjoys the simple things in life, like chatting about football over a few beers – and knowing when to stop.
When it comes to the more challenging emotional scenes, Perry sometimes resorts to shouting, rather than going for a more controlled, nuanced delivery, but perhaps this will improve as he gets into his stride later in the run.
The sets divide mostly between bar room and bedroom, with one scene where Jack appears in his underpants (in bed, not in the bar, in case you’re wondering, although the other way round might have been funnier.)
Daring to bare will probably please the Friends fans, but it takes greater courage to reveal your weaknesses in public, and for doing that, as both writer and performer, Perry deserves due recognition.
By Angela Lord
The End of Longing is now showing at the Playhouse Theatre, London until 14 May.