Sunday, 3 April 2016

Out & About: The End of Longing in London (2016)

I am always looking for ways to sort of break the fourth wall, that is break the distance between me and the objects of my fascination – TV and movies, to make them a part of my reality so to speak. For someone, who doesn't live in Hollywood, NYC, Louisiana, Berlin, or one of those other cool, new, and cheap shooting hotspots that is fairly difficult. 

Yet, this spring an unexpected, but very welcome opportunity presented itself: Matthew Perry, my favorite awkward jokster from my all time favorite show was doing a play in London! Easy-peasy to get to and fairly cheap at that. Plane tickets booked, local friends notified that I'd need a place to crash while there, and I was basically on my way to see Matt Perry in The End of Longing. Looking back I maybe should have realized that it all worked out just a bit too neatly and that there must be some sort of catch (that's the retrospect pessimist in me speaking, hello!). After all, I had had a rather disappointing run-in with David Schwimmer at the same place now more than a decade ago, when respectfully asking for his autograph (shit I am getting old!). At the height of my love for FRIENDS my 15-year-old self's dreams were kind of crushed. Now, back in 2016, I can finally agree with that piece of advice as old as mankind: Don't try and meet your idols  even on a very superficial level of running into them or seeing them perform live. More likely than not your over-exaggerated expectations will be disappointed. So Leo and Kate, Colin Firth, Stana Katic, Jen Aniston, Paget Brewster, and all you other awesome and talented people I so greatly admire, please don't cross my path and let me admire you from afar.

But let's not get sidetracked here, this aren't the adventures of some overly dramatic fangirl, but there is actually a point to all this (shocking, I know!). I was in London and keen to see how Matthew Perry would perform live and in his own play at that. So, travelling on a budget, I didn't book a ticket in advance, but went to the box office on the morning of the play and waited in line with around eight other people to score one of the limited number of day seats for 15 British Pounds. Job done, good deal! Even greater deal, when I realized that night that although sitting in the last row of the stalls, this was a fairly small theater and I was sitting smack in the middle of the row with a great view of the stage. I was excited, since the headlines I read so far proclaimed things like "Matthew Perry is brilliant, this is FRIENDS for grown-ups" (Kevin Hughes, Heart FM) or "consistently funny and laugh-out-loud" (The Times).

The official synopsis of The End of Longing reads: "Meet Jack, Stephanie, Joseph and Stevie: four lost souls, entering their forties and searching for meaning. After sharing one raucous night together in a downtown Los Angeles bar, their lives become irreversibly entwined in a rollercoaster journey that forces them to confront the darker sides of their relationships." Of course heavily promoted with Perry as the star and writer, I expected great one-liners, comedy and some heartfelt if slightly
Source: Variety Magazine
awkward moments. And out of all of that awkward is what I got. From beginning to end there were few moments that I enjoyed without anything holding me back or bothering me. The play started with character introductions of this four-actor production and Matthew Perry took the stage first. As Jack he proclaimed that he was a successful alcoholic first, and everything else after that. Okay, so the play'd been heavily influenced by Perry's own story, got it. Joining him on stage were Christina Cole as neurotic pharmacist Stevie, Jennifer Mudge as successful, high-end escort Stephanie, and Lloyd Owen as dumb but lovable Joseph. Two unlikely couples form, there are some problems in between, but all is well that ends well. You get the gist of this clichéd, but proven successful formula. 

The story was alright, but nothing really exciting. Your average mid-twenties rom-com set 20 years
Source: Variety Magazine
later. The performances were solid, no one particularly excelled. Except for Matt Perry that is, but not in a good way. I don't know if I just expected spectacular things from him, but having watched his work for 15 years and him being the reason I came to see the play, I at least expected more. To me his performance was overly exaggerated and I was never sure, since his character was a drunk, if that was supposed to be his character's drunk persona, his drunk acting was just not good or ... I don't know. Also the general chemistry between all actors on stage – be it supposed friendship or romance – just felt awkward. There was a lot of swearing, but none that actually brought anything to the story or characters, there were no witty one-liners (though they certainly tried), and a lot of times I found the language to be rather un-colloquial and a mouth full.

So when that final curtain closed, even though there was no actual curtain, and the audience had sufficiently applauded the performers of that night, I was a bit relieved that it was over. I paid 15 Pounds watching an okay play and got to spend a nice few days with some friends in London, but boy was I glad I had not reserved that 60 Pound premium seat that I had been thinking about! After the play, since I was there, I figured I might as well take part in that oh so highly controversially discussed ritual of waiting at the stage door. I wasn't gonna go full on fangirl or anything, but I just wanted to see what was up. So along with around 25 other people I waited in the designated area, the theater had prepared, that was actually not the stage door, but a side entrance to the theater. The crowd was fairly relaxed, most of them of the 20 to 30-ish veteran FRIENDS viewer type. Everyone was here for Matt Perry, that became obvious pretty quickly, when the other actors left unnoticed through the actual stage door. Lloyd Owen even drove off on a collapsible bike wearing a reflective vest. Kind of sad to pull off as good a performance as the rest of your cast and to not be equally valued... But that's kind of to be expected I guess. 

The hype around a person also has its downsides obviously, though here it was on a manageable scale and no Cumberbatch mania, thank God. After around 15 minutes of waiting in the chilled London night that had me very close to just leaving, barriers were put up and a car pulled up right in front so there was a 1,5 x 3 meter space in front of the theater door. Finally, Matt Perry exited looking less than excited to fulfill his (perceived) duty of signing autographs. Camera and phones started snapping and flashing away in his face, and I, too, could not resist capturing this moment and man, if only from afar and sans flash. Even though there weren't that many people there, now the commotion seemed massive and when people also started instructing Matthew Perry to "smile!" for their not asked for pictures, I could understand his expression. Asking for an autograph and maybe even a picture is one thing, but going crazy and starting to treat people like show animals in a zoo – and that's what it felt like – is something else entirely. So I turned my back on all of that and headed to the next Tube station. No 30 seconds later I could see Matthew Perry's car speeding away into the London night as well.

Upon returning home I could not resist turning on an episode of FRIENDS. I was relieved to say I could still enjoy the show and more importantly Chandler Bing (I never liked Ross, so I didn't have that problem back in the day), but I was still disappointed and a little doubtful of Matthew Perry's actual comedic skills (or the loss thereof) after seeing him perform that night.

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