Frances Barber steals the show in ridiculous new comedy The Unfriend – review

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The Unfriend is a ridiculous premise for a show – when we read the overview we knew we absolutely had to check it out. In a nutshell, a British couple make a new American friend while on a cruise; they stay in touch and after a while they invite their new friend to stay at theirs while she’s visiting London. In the interim, they discover the worst possible secret to find out about a potential house guest – it seems she’s a suspected serial killer. This is further complicated by the fact that our British couple are just too reserved and polite to ask their guest to leave. Over the course of two hours, we watch as they navigate this precarious social dilemma.

It’s a wonderful concept for a play, and one that sets up some great comedic moments. Frances Barber absolutely steals the show as the American house guest and suspected murderer Elsa Jean Krakowski; a loud, brash, Trump-supporting widower from Denver. Her delivery is hilarious, dialling up the drama, turning on the waterworks, wringing each line for everything it’s worth – what this performance lacks in nuance it more than makes up for in entertainment value.

The British couple – Peter (Reece Shearsmith) and Debbie (Amanda Abbington) – play the straight counterfoil to Barber’s outrageous Elsa. Gabriel Howell and Maddie Holliday depict with remarkable accuracy a pair of bored, spoiled teenagers in this middle-class household. The Unfriend has lots of elements which work well together – and yet something doesn’t quite feel right. Several of its jokes land brilliantly, but many don’t; some of the characters feel a little underwritten; at times it feels like it’s lacking in dramatic tension, given the potential life-or-death situation. Throughout the show there’s a pervading feeling that the stakes are just a little too low.

We still had a perfectly enjoyable evening with The Unfriend, but it feels a bit like a work-in-progress with a lot of potential as opposed to the finished product; we left the theatre with a feeling that we’d watched something good, but with the makings of something really great. With a handful more hilarious punchlines and the tension dialled up significantly this would make for essential viewing, but it’s not quite there.

GAY TIMES gives The Unfriend – 3/5

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