The Unfriend reviews at Chichester Festival Theatre 2022 ★★★

Reviews are in for The Unfriend at Chichester Festival Theatre starring Amanda Abbington, Frances Barber and Reece Shearsmith.

Written by Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, SherlockDracula) and directed by Mark Gatiss, The Unfriend is an amusing and satirical take on middle-class England’s instinct to always appear nice.

The show follows middle class couple Peter and Debbie, played by Shearmith and Abbington, who meet an overly friendly American called Elsie, played by Barber, on a cruise. Back home, and with barely any warning up turns Elsie – a quick internet search and Elsie is more than who she appears. Can Peter and Debbie bring themselves to say anything?

The cast is completed by Gabriel Howell, Maddie Holliday, Michael Simkins and Marcus Onilude

The Unfriend runs until 9 July 2022 in the Minerva Theatre at Chichester Festival Theatre.

Average Critics Rating

The Unfriend reviews

The Telegraph

"Effortlessly entertaining, and maybe the most ‘promising’ debut in ages,"

"It’s hardly a profound evening but it’s a perceptive one."

"The action is line-by-line funny and an apt commentary on English middle-class manners. The inability of these inhibited types to desist from politeness and eject their guest reaches its hilarious apotheosis when they try to peddle the lie that Peter’s elderly mother is on her way out. Elsa turns tables by shooing the pair off through the front-door to do their bit, while mock-sweetly cosying up to their kids. Shearsmith excels himself as the picture of rising, suppressed consternation, hoisted with his own petard."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
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The Stage

"Tour de force of toilet farce"

"Sherlock creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss team up for a hilarious dark comedy of good manners"

"There’s a stretch of Moffat’s play that doesn’t quite hit the high leagues. The gags are there, plenty of them, but the production struggles to lift itself beyond decent TV sitcom fare. Every so often, it pulls out an absolutely glorious line delivered exquisitely by one of the cast and that’s enough to keep us going."

"But as it moves into the second act, the whole thing quickens, and by the time it reaches a tour de force of toilet farce from Shearsmith, Abbington and Marcus Onilude as a police officer negotiating some dodgy sandwiches and a downstairs loo, it’s proper gut-busting stuff."

Tim Bano, The Stage
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The Guardian

"Cringe-tastic "

"Gatiss’s brisk directing doesn’t permit lags or reflection and the rollicking pace plays to the strengths of cast and text alike. Simkins gives a bravely unshowy performance calling on reserves of skill and stamina. Barber breathes new life into a dynamic – devil-may-care American tutoring prim Britons – which feels vaguely played-out."

"This is Shearsmith’s evening, though, his paroxysms of awkwardness becoming ever more finely calibrated as the hysteria escalates."

"It’s a pity Abbington isn’t given a larger share of the physical comedy, remaini

Ryan Gilbey, The Guardian
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The Independent

"Smug and sitcom-ish"

"Shearsmith is given most of the funny lines, while Abbington is the naturalistic straight man doing Proper Acting. But her part feels underwritten and leaves her resorting to being the finger-wagging fun sponge."

"Barber, meanwhile, is a tremendous physical comedian, wailing in pain and shrieking with laughter. Your eyes are drawn to her from the moment she arrives, baring her feet and swaggering around in a velour tracksuit with the words “choose life” encrusted on the back in diamante."

"Where The Unfriend is let down is in its script. There’s an icky smugness to the writing; every genuinely funny line undercut by unbearable comments"

"In the final moments, there’s a genuinely good twist. While I won’t spoil, it almost makes it worth it. But not quite."

Isobel Lewis, The Independent
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The News, Portsmouth

"I gave it a standing ovation – and I promise I was not just being polite."

"The Unfriend has BBC Christmas special and West End transfer written all over it."

"Reece Shearsmith gives Barber a run for her money as the uptight and neurotic dad Peter."

James Butler, The News, Portsmouth
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Daily Mail

"Deathly dull "

"Comedies of procrastination can only go on so long before something must give. Only here, it doesn't."

"There are some good gags including Shearsmith's quip that 20 years of marriage gives you a talent for telepathy, 'only more hostile'. Moffat religiously follows the comic rule of running a routine three times. One such trilogy includes the teenage son (a permanently aghast Gabriel Howell) failing to answer the phone. Although this may have the ring of truth for parents, the eventual punchline also has the ring of painful predictability."

"The show's best feature is Barber, who turns her serial killer from Denver into a kind of bling, Midwest, female Donald Trump."

Patrick Marmion, Daily Mail
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Sussex World

"Laugh-out-loud gold"

"It may owe more to sitcom than Shakespeare, but this is laugh out loud gold."

"The intimate construct of the Minerva might be more appropriate than the Chichester Festival Theatre main house - but it seems churlish to confine something this good to such a small auditorium."

Gary Shipton, Sussex World
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The Times

"Creaky sitcom jokes make Steven Moffat’s play a trial"

"The Unfriend starts promisingly enough as a study in middle-class embarrassment."

"To be fair, most of the Chichester audience seemed more than willing to laugh at jokes that wouldn’t have made the cut in the cheesiest of Seventies sitcoms. Michael Simkins steals a scene or two as a relentlessly boring neighbour. Gatiss directs at a frenetic pace interspersed with overlong scene changes. There’s a scattering of decent jokes and double-takes; the audience decided they were worth a standing ovation. Utterly mystifying."

Clive Davis, The Times
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📷 Main photo: Amanda Abbington, Frances Barber, Reece Shearsmith - Photo by Manuel Harlan

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