Theatre Review - The Unfriend

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but on the night I went the audience lapped up Steven Moffat’s domestic comedy starring Frances Barber and Reece Shearsmith and directed by Mark Gatiss. To many theatregoers, they’re a dream team.

The Unfriend transfers from Chichester Festival Theatre and one cannot deny the calibre of the actors who clearly enjoy being on stage together. Barber plays Elsa, an overbearing American and Trump fan, who comes to visit the English friends she met on a cruise.

Peter (Shearsmith) and Debbie (Amanda Abbington), a staunchly middle-class couple, live in the suburbs with their two kids. They’re obsessed with their jobs, always on their phones and partial to red wine. As their nosy neighbour (Michael Simkins) observes, you can tell the amount they get through when the recycling comes round. He’s so dreary Peter never remember anything he says, let alone his name.

After Elsa has invited herself to stay, the couple google her and are appalled to discover she’s suspected of being a serial killer. How can they unfriend her?  Who will she poison next? They are determined to tell her she can’t stay but their innate politeness stops them from speaking frankly. All too soon Elsa has taken over the spare room.

Elsa proves a hit with their children (Gabriel Howell, Maddie Holliday) – so much so, Debbie calls her “Murder Poppins”. She also manages to disarm the neighbour, who she dismisses as passive-aggressive, and local PC (Marcus Onilude).

There’s a definite TV sitcom vibe, but this good-natured farce, with a good dose of lavatory humour, carries a broad appeal and the laughs come thick and fast. Shearsmith is exquisitely awkward, Barber delightfully brash and this is neatly balanced by Simkins and Abbington low-key performances.

I’d have preferred a more invigorating brew, but The Unfriend proves a genial escape from the winter blues.

To April 16.

Originally published by Westminster Extra