The Unfriend | Criterion Theatre | Review

The Unfriend

Criterion Theatre

While on holiday Peter and Debbie befriend Elsa: a lusty, Trump-loving widow from Denver, USA.  She’s less than woke but kind of wonderful. They agree to stay in touch – because no one ever really does, do they? When Elsa invites herself to stay a few months later, they decide to look her up online. Too late, they learn the truth about Elsa Jean Krakowski. Deadly danger has just boarded a flight to London! What began as a casual holiday friendship is now a threat to the lives of their children. 

Peter and Debbie now face the ultimate challenge of the modern world – how do you protect all that you love from mortal peril without seeming a bit impolite?

Steven Moffat’s debut play is a very funny, black comedy with a huge amount of talent involved. It’s directed by Moffat’s Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss, and has an impressive comedy cast led by the outstanding Reece Shearsmith, Gatiss’s mate from The League of Gentlemen.

Shearsmith plays Peter and draws from the incomparable Stan Laurel, the hilarious Lee Evans and Sherlock actor Martin Freeman in his performance which is the stand out amongst many that are noteworthy. The second act is dominated by a policeman (Marcus Onilude) needing a No. 2 in the downstairs toilet and Shearsmith’s face as he waits outside the toilet door is a comedy masterclass as he tries to persuade the policeman to let him examine what has been deposited in the pan.

Francis Barber is excellent as the brash American and there is terrific support from Michael Simkins (author of the brilliant What’s My Motivation?)as the next door neighbour we all recognise and Gabriel Howell and Maddie Holliday as the couple’s self-absorbed teenage kids Alex and Rosie. Howell in particular nails the infuriatingly adolescent qualities only a parent of teenagers will understand.

Amanda Abbington (also ex-Sherlock) completes the cast as the slightly underwritten Debbie and despite the limitations of the writing delivers a precise and impressive performance.

How refreshing to go to a London theatre surrounded by average musicals and see a proper play with a sold out audience. The Unfriend is an absolute hoot and a superb piece of observational theatre resulting in a hilarious comedy of manners and embarrassment.


Reviewer: Patric Kearns