The Unfriend Review – Wyndham’s Theatre

Sarah Alexander and Lee Mack. Photo: Manuel Harlan

The Unfriend review by Carla Rudgyard

Following its box office success at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 2022 and again last year at the Criterion Theatre, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ first collaboration is a chucklesome comedy that’ll help you crack a smile amidst the January blues.

With Moffat’s extensive repertoire of television experience, his playwriting debut has the real essence of an on-screen British situation comedy, which feels tailor-made for comedian Lee Mack who’s a dab hand at wringing out the excruciatingly awkward and itchingly English moments of laughable miscommunication.

The story follows a middle class family who accidentally befriend a glamorous but extremely unhinged American widow named Elsa on holiday. Couple Peter and Debbie struggle to deny the seemingly harmless and delusional acquaintance a short stay in their home due to painfully British politeness and subsequently end up discovering that their new guest might just be a serial killer. Awkwardness ensues.

The set (Robert Jones) is triumphantly realistic once we arrive off the cruise ship to the suburbanite home of Debbie and Peter, with an inventive roof that allows for the projection of relevant internet deep-dives on their mysterious guest, alongside animations (Andrezej Goulding) of the upstairs windows meaning we always know where each character resides.

Nick Sampson, Lee Mack, Sarah Alexander, Jem Matthews and Frances Barber. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Frances Barber’s trump-supporting, anti-vax Elsa is convincingly manipulative with her explosive emotions that subdue any chance of the couple’s escape from her unwanted presence. When she develops a nurturing relationship with socially withdrawn and hilariously angsty son Alex (Jem Matthews), for a moment, you might just like her, which is impressive considering her unpredictable nature and creepy fixation on the household.

Likewise, the change in defensive daughter Rosie (Maddie Holliday) is palpable as Elsa’s influence casts an air of bizarrely positive change on the dysfunctional family’s dynamic. Sarah Alexander’s Debbie perfectly portrays her suspicious and resentful feelings towards Elsa and yet becomes a bumbling mess when confrontation arises due to (there’s a real theme here) British awkwardness. Her line: “We are dying of manners. We are under siege from personal embarrassment” accurately summarises the main gag of this show.

If you can’t bear being a bystander to embarrassment, this probably isn’t the one for you. There’s a lot of nervous energy, verbally putting your foot in it, and visual build ups to obviously mortifying scenarios. Oh, and there’s a lot of poo jokes. Like, a lot.

On the other hand, if you can stand a bit of toilet humour, It’s likely an entertaining and humorous watch for fans of TV shows such as Friday Night Dinner, Not Going Out, or any British situation comedy, really.

The Unfriend will run at the Wyndham’s theatre until the 9th of March.

Read about our approach to star-ratings here.