Review: The Unfriend, Criterion Theatre

There’s a lot of talent around Steven Moffatt’s comedy The Unfriend but I found it desperately unfunny at the Criterion Theatre

What are flowers but vegetables to look at?”

Fresh from a run at Chichester Festival Theatre last year, The Unfriend arrives in the West End, replete with its names attached. Written by Steven Moffatt, directed by Mark Gatiss and starring Reece Shearsmith, Amanda Abbington and Frances Barber as its leads, you can see where the appeal lies. In terms of the comedy itself though, its the name Alan Ayckbourn that springs to mind for better or worse. 

So if that kind of rather old-fashioned humour is your bag, then you’ll be in for a treat. Fart gags, actual toilet humour, lazy national stereotypes, all are present and correct in a rum tale of holiday friends gone wrong. Abbington and Shearsmith play Peter and Debbie who have a right laugh on holiday with the wacky Elsa, a Trump supporter from Denver who they think they’ll never see again but who invites herself to stay with them for a week.

Ruh-roh, it turns out she’s an (easily Google-able) serial killer and ruh-roh, it turns out Pete and Debs are too terribly English to tell her to sling her hook. And that’s pretty much it – the would-be comedy of manners playing out as she works her certain spell over the couple, plus their children and neighbours. It’s just not particularly funny with it, coming off as a weak sitcom with only the occasional one-liner to perk things up.

Gatiss’ direction clearly has intent in mind but it is punishingly done as it lacks any real kind of inspiration. Even down to laborious scene changes, it feels so flat and just drags the whole thing down. The company work hard with the material and it must be said that many around me were enjoying themselves a whole lot more than I but for me, The Unfriend was just unfunny. 

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Photo: Manuel Harlan
The Unfriend is booking at the Criterion Theatre until 16th April

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