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The End of Longing

"He thinks Magna Carta is about a giant cart!" — Stevie
The End of Longing
Jennifer Mudge as Stephanie and Matthew Perry as Jack (Photo: Helen Maybanks)
Matthew Perry was last on the London stage in 2003 in David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago. In 2016 he is both star and playwright of The End of Longing about a quartet from Los Angeles, the post Friends generation. Judging from last night's audience there are still many out there who are there to see the real live person who played Chandler Bing in the decade long NBC situation comedy. The audience figures for the last Friends episode were over 52 million so there is a large audience pool to draw on.

The first act brims full with one liners, jokes often sexually explicit and with plenty of instances of the F word. Two pairs of friends discover that they interconnect. Stevie (Christina Cole) and Stephanie (Jennifer Mudge) are friends although they don't link professionally. In therapy, Stevie works for a drug company where she seems to be trying out the product and Stephanie is a high class prostitute charging $2500 a pop. Stevie is 37 and desperate to get pregnant but as she has just broken up with her last boyfriend, she has a father shortage.

Jack (Matthew Perry) is a fashion photographer with a drink problem and his friend Joseph (Lloyd Owen) labels himself stupid. Certainly Joseph's vocabulary is rather limited but he seems to be a nice guy. After a first drink fuelled night, Jack and Stephanie find themselves in bed which Stephanie decides not to charge for. Similarly Joseph and Stevie end up in her flat in her bed. So boy meets girl and as the plot so often develops, each pair goes through teething problems but Stevie's pregnancy is chivalrously received by Joseph and they stay together.

Jack and Stephanie however have a relationship fraught with issues. Jack's drunken behavior is out of control and he can't accept Stephanie's way of earning an exceptionally well paid living. I'm not sure that the British audience is ready for the dramatization and simplification of the relationship between such flawed people nor for the normalization of prostitution.

The first act has plenty of jokes but I had a feeling of artificiality about how these one liners linked together to illustrate character and drive the rather thin plot. Matthew Perry is to be admired for tackling the subject of alcoholism in a drama.

Lindsay Posner does his best with the weak script and Anna Fleischle's beautiful apartment sets have monochrome backdrops of the moving LA skyline and, like the Mamet play, scene changes are slick. I liked less the red velvet banquettes in the bar where they all meet. Acting performances are fine although the characters become annoying rather than likeable with their faults exposed with sledgehammers.

The second act, set mostly in the local maternity hospital, sees Jack and Stephanie, now separated, both turn up to support Stevie's labour and Joseph's fatherhood. They hover on the edge of tragedy before an ending which I found barely credible; the triumph of unlikely hope over real and likely experience. Still it is this happy ending that the fans have come for and they weren't complaining.
The End of Longing
by Matthew Perry
Directed by Lindsay Posner
Starring Matthew Perry, Christina Cole, Jennifer Mudge, Lloyd Owen
Design by Anna Fleischle
Lighting: Lucy Carter
Composer and sound: Isobel Waller-Bridge
Projection Design: Lucy Carter and Anna Fleischle with Alex Uragello, Louise Rhodes-Brown and Dan Trenchard
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with an interval
Box Office 020 7492 0810
Booking to 14th May 2016
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 10th February 2016 performance at the Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue, London WC2N (Rail /Tube Charing Cross, Embankment)
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