Review of ‘The Unfriend’: “The divine comedy”

The spooks and the scares have been replaced on the boards of London’s Criterion Theatre for the laughs and feel-good vibe of a most delightful serial killer. Guillermo Nazara reviews this new comedy now playing in the West End for a strictly limited run, to let us know if the victims of this show lie onstage or on the stalls!

I love murdering. Seriously, I know it sounds crazy… Yeah, I’m not gonna make an excuse, it’s just who I am. But the thing is there’s nothing more fulfilling that deciding upon another life – especially when that allows justice to be served. That’s what killing a show is all about: protecting your audience from the untalented tedium of those productions that never deserved to be born in the first place. You must be cautious, though – that’s why I always make sure to spare one or two every season so nobody sees me as angry c*nt. For example, this month I’ve liked…

It’s all a joke of course (yes, I know… I’m brilliant) – I’m not that nasty, in that regard at least… But it’s true how comedy (or farce, in this case) can turn the vilest of acts into a exciting roller coaster of giggles and, all in all, extreme fun. The Unfriend is not the kind of humour that will make you reflect on human existence – and certainly not the sort of piece that will prompt deeper conversations about what’s wrong with society. It’s simple and silly. And that’s all you should only care about. Because it does pay off.

Written by Steven Moffat, the play revolves around Peter (portrayed by Reece Shearsmith) and Debbie (Ammanda Abbington), a married couple from London who befriend (sort to speak) a weird flamboyant elderly woman (Frances Barber) during their vacation on a cruise – just to learn 5 minutes before she comes to stay at their house that she is in fact responsible for the deaths of six people! Thriller turns into cackle through a cleverly executed use of the absurd, leading to some expected, some surprising but always hilarious moments – many of them, fairly reminders of the traditional 90s sitcom, which still keeps a much fond space in our memories for a reason (and if it doesn’t, just seek some therapy).

Directed by Mark Gatiss, the uses of the stage space and pacing are smartly put together, creating an uptempo succession of foolish yet seamlessly loomed situations, building up a constant interest in the viewer, craving to know “the truth” about the unwelcome guest. As for the cast, Frances Barber (as the murderous “heroine”, in every meaning of the word!) gives an infectious flamboyant rendition that’s remarkably applaudable, but the final praise goes in this case to Reece Shearsmith, for his uproarious though very natural approach to his grumpy awkward yet extremely sympathetic (a merit of his own) character.

With its audience roaring from beginning to end, there’s hardly any doubt that this show is, undoubtedly, one of the strongest offers of the start of the year – providing its public with something as plain and elementary yet somehow difficult to produce and, lately, find: enjoyment and entertainment. No excerpts are boring, no parts need further polishing. It’s not a complex work, that’s true. It is what it is. But honestly, by all means, let it be.

All pictures credit to Manuel Hara.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Unfriend plays at London’s Criterion Theatre from Tuesday to Sunday for a strictly limited season until 16 April 2023. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Nazara

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