But Friends is very much on the list for why audiences might flock to see this play, which revolves around the kind of catching up with past flames that another contemporary cultural phenomenon, the website Friends Reunited, has also widely facilitated. For a decade, Schwimmer was, of course, Ross Geller in the hit sitcom.
Now that Friends has ended, Schwimmer is following in the footsteps of fellow cast member Matthew Perry to make his West End debut. Unlike Perry, who was a theatrical virgin when he came to London to star in Sexual Perversity in Chicago two summers ago, Schwimmer is an accomplished stage actor who founded his own company in Chicago when he graduated from university and continues to act, direct and produce for it there.
And he hasn’t taken an easy route here, playing a desperately unsympathetic character whose apparent need for atonement reveals a catalogue of selfish acts of flight. When the going gets tough, another of his former lovers points out, his modus operandi is to “run away and hide like a fucking child”.
Schwimmer articulates this man – a teacher who also aspires to be a writer, and has cannibalised his past for a story in The New Yorker – with an admirable lack of sentimentality but a bruising need. “I think you’re the kind of person who leaves a bunch of hurt in your boyish wake… all the time”, he’s told. And playwright Neil LaBute, a specialist in the theatre of discomfort, doesn’t make it easy for him, or us, to watch him facing up to some home truths.
LaBute’s play is structured as a series of hotel room encounters between Schwimmer’s character and four former lovers – Catherine Tate as his Seattle high-school sweetheart Sam; Sara Powell as his Chicago grad-school girlfriend who graduates him in a sex education, too; Lesley Manville as the married Boston woman he has an affair with on his first teaching job; and Saffron Burrows as the LA undergraduate love of his life.
Though there’s a certain morbid fascination as the patterns of the Man’s behaviour emerge, LaBute’s 100-minute play also feels strangely repetitive. But in David Grindley’s elegantly poised production, there is one stand-out scene of blistering intensity, as Manville’s ferocious Lindsay tries to settle some old scores of her own. It’s worth seeing for this scene alone.
- Mark Shenton