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The Unfriend – Criterion Theatre, London

Reviewer: Christine Stanton

Writer: Steven Moffat

Director: Mark Gatiss

Elsa is a loud, brash, Trump supporter from Denver, Peter and Debbie are a polite, mild-mannered British couple – an unlikely trio that wind up having a brief holiday friendship on a cruise. Expecting they’ll never hear from her again; they’re surprised when they get a request for a reunion back in London a few months later. Running of out excuses, they give in and invite her to stay. But if only they’d Googled her first, they might have realised sooner that she was a suspected murderer, and probably not an ideal house guest.

Steven Moffat’s fast-paced comedy of manners amplifies British awkwardness to a tee. The politeness of inviting a dangerous criminal into your home to avoid being slightly rude is a brilliantly wonderful storyline, held up by the equally fantastic cast, who delivers each scene with expertise. Director Mark Gatiss makes sure the pace stays relentless throughout, bringing the best out of Moffat’s well written script, and ensuring that even during scene changes there are humorous background moments from the characters to keep the engagement high.

The audience is first introduced to the three characters on a cruise-ship, their personalities easily definable and the backstory briefly outlined. It then quickly moves into Peter (Reece Shearsmith) and Debbie’s (Amanda Abbington) cosily quaint English home for the remainder of the play, impeccably designed by Robert Jones. The set, lighting and pace of the show has a definitive family sitcom feel to it, which is heightened further by the constant amusement from the audience, giving a canned laughter effect to each of the funny gags and interactions. The set is further well utilised with the addition of the ‘Killer at Large’ YouTube video that gets projected onto the stage – an excellent, unexpected use of multi-media.

Elsa couldn’t be portrayed any better than by Frances Barber. Her cadence is fantastic, morphing into the glamorous enigma and becoming a character you’d love to hate. Shearsmith is a comedy legend through and through, his comedic timing is unmatched, hilariously at the helm of each scene and delivering absolute gold through even the slightest of gestures or expressions. The entire performance is a farcical, comedic tennis match between Barber and Shearsmith, each line met with an equally funny retort from beginning to end.

Abbington manoeuvres immaculately between both of them and creates the believably realistic family dynamic that makes the play so fabulous. Michael Simkins as the boring, unforgettable neighbour, Gabriel Howell and Maddie Holliday as the Kevin & Perry style teenagers and Marcus Onilude as the hapless policeman are all superb supporting characters that are weaved into the script for even more comedic opportunity.

The Unfriend is a killer show made up of an expertly talented cast and crew, well worth cruising over to the Criterion Theatre for a visit. Just try not to buddy up with anyone in the audience as it might not only be laughter you’re dying of by the end of it.

Runs until 16 April 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Fast-Paced, Farcical, Fantastic

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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