I hadn't heard great things about 'The End of Longing'. The Guardian called it 'flimsy', The Telegraph bitterly declared it a 'waste of time, money and effort'. Ouch. Determined to confound the critics and fulfil my duty as a die-hard Friends fan, I decided to give it a chance. It's Chandler on stage, it's 'the one where Chandler writes a play' - how bad can it be?
'The End of Longing' tells the story of four disillusioned thirty-somethings, each on the brink of an early mid-life crisis. Perry's character is Jack, an alcoholic who finds himself falling in love with 'high-class' prostitute Stephie. Their relationship is paralleled by their more conventionally-matched best friends, Joseph and Stevie, whose fling is soon fast-tracked by an unplanned pregnancy. Drinking, sex, drinking, arguing and more drinking ensues. Not the most original of dynamics. In fact, it's rather like Friends - with vodka.
The most obvious similarity is that between the aptly-named character Joseph and our beloved Joey Tribbiani. In their respective roles, both are Perry's characters' best friend. Like Joey, Joseph is not exactly the sharpest tool in the box. Like Joey, his simplicity is endearing and we quickly grow fond of him.
Of course, there is a lot of Chandler in Jack - how could there not be? It would be drastically disappointing to see Perry take on a role that is totally devoid of trademark Chandler wit. In a play where there a several dark and harrowing scenes, Jack's dry sense of humour thankfully lightens the mood.
It's not just the male characters that remind us of our Friends stars. The character Stevie is desperate to have a baby, highly strung, controlling and irritatingly shrill - made charming only by her similarity to Monica. However, as you can imagine, Stephie the prostitute bears no obvious resemblance to Rachel or Phoebe. Phewf. She is ballsy, bold and lovable. However, there are many key questions to her character that Perry, perhaps mistakenly, leaves unanswered. Like, why does she continue to prostitute herself? What led her into that lifestyle? And, most importantly, what would possibly attract such a fiercely independent, confident woman to a decrepit, unsuccessful alcoholic?
The power of Perry's writing is certainly not in his characterisation, nor is it in his basic plot structure.
What makes 'The End of Longing' bearable is Perry himself.
He's as much of a joy to watch on stage as he is on screen - engaging, satirical and impeccable comedic timing. Plus, many of Perry's own experiences filter into the plot. He recently admitted to Alan Carr that the anecdote in which Jack tells Joseph that he accidentally blared porn through his garden speakers while masturbating at 2pm actually happened to him. Eek.
While the basic plot structure has been highly criticised, it actually amplifies the play's more ominous core: the protagonist's alcoholism. Jack's excessive consumption of alcohol and its destructive consequences are by far the most prominent feature of the play.
Jack is drunk 95% of the time he is on stage - the other 5% he is drinking. The majority of action takes place around a bar; this is where relationships are formed, developed and discussed. It is the heart of Perry's theatrical universe.
It's no secret that Perry has suffered hugely from addictions to both alcohol and drugs throughout his adult life - earlier this year he told BBC Radio 2 that he didn't even remember three years of Friends. Knowing this, it becomes hard to distinguish between the experiences of alcoholic Jack and of Perry himself particularly given that we know from Alan Carr that the plot includes real-life anecdotes.
Jack brings vodka to a baseball game, he seems to have zero family interaction, he doesn't sleep and is subsequently addicted to sleeping medication. How much of this happened to Perry?
Of course as super fans we are keen to speculate - but 'The End of Longing' is not about trying to unpick embarrassing drunken anecdotes from Perry's alcoholic past. It is about witnessing firsthand the detrimental effects that this kind of lifestyle has on you and those around you.
The highlight of Perry's performance is undeniably in the final scene, when Jack attends an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and finally addresses his alcoholism. His speech is wrought with pain and emotional poignancy, made more powerful by the audience's knowledge that this is probably something Perry has had to do himself.
Criticisms aside, 'The End of Longing' is a highly entertaining piece of theatre. In a theatrical cliché - it made me laugh, it made me cry but more importantly, it gave me an insight into the heartbreakingly tragic disease that is addiction, something that affected one of my favourite actors for so many years.