Review Roundup: THE UNFRIEND at the Criterion Theatre

What did the critics think of Steven Moffat's dark comedy?

By: Jan. 20, 2023
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Following its acclaimed sold-out run at Chichester Festival Theatre, The Unfriend has now opened in the West End for a strictly limited run from 15 January. This riotous dark comedy from writer Steven Moffat and director Mark Gatiss, the award- winning team behind BBC's Sherlock, stars an uproarious cast including Reece Shearsmith, Amanda Abington and Frances Barber.

So what did the critics think?

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan


Review Roundup: THE UNFRIEND at the Criterion Theatre Alexander Cohen, BroadwayWorld: Director Mark Gatiss plays gleefully into the shifting power dynamics. From the moment she arrives, Barber's gloriously ostentatious Elsa is in total control both physically and metaphorically of Peter and Debbie. They are wriggling worms under her boot. Shearsmith as Peter is particularly adept at capturing the idiosyncrasies of an awkward dad. There is something a bit Matt Hancock about him in the way he squirms frantically, only to be put in place by his long-suffering judicious wife.

Review Roundup: THE UNFRIEND at the Criterion Theatre Nick Curtis, Evening Standard: If you surrender to the absurdity, it's ...

Review Roundup: THE UNFRIEND at the Criterion Theatre Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut: Moffat is an accomplished TV writer, and while not best known for comedy these days, he did mastermind enjoyable early ’00s sitcom ‘Coupling’. But clearly most playwrights don’t go straight into the West End with their first play. ‘The Unfriend’ is relatively short, but also waffly, unfocused and above all, bland. It’s easy to fantasise about what a playwright specialising in dark comedy like Richard Bean might have got out of the premise. But it’s doubly frustrating that as writers, both Gatiss and Shearsmith have such good form for the domestic grotesque; after a while, the cheeky little detail of Peter and Debbie’s house being number nine feels like it’s taunting us.

Review Roundup: THE UNFRIEND at the Criterion Theatre Dave Fargnoli, The Stage: You might hope for more bite in a comedy about a potential poisoner inveigling her way into a suburban family: the tone here is thoroughly tame. There is some mildly embarrassing toilet humour and gentle sending up of the stereotypical foibles of gauche Americans and stuffy Brits. Still, the script is undeniably funny. Packed with pithy one-liners, the show gains momentum after a slow start, ratcheting up the cringe factor with every new revelation.

Review Roundup: THE UNFRIEND at the Criterion Theatre Christine Stanton, The Reviews Hub: 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.

Review Roundup: THE UNFRIEND at the Criterion Theatre
Average Rating: 70.0%

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