The Unfriend Reviews Round-up at the Criterion Theatre

Reviews are in for the West End premiere of Steven Moffat’s The Unfriend, now playing at the Criterion Theatre in London.

Starring Reece Shearsmith (Inside No.9), Amanda Abbington (Sherlock) and Frances Barber (Silk), Moffat’s riotous and effortlessly entertaining comedy is directed by The League of Gentlemen’s Mark Gatiss.

Shearsmith and Abbington play middle-class couple Peter and Debbie returning from a cruise to find an email from a fellow passenger, Elsie played by Barber, that she’s coming to stay. A quick internet search and it appears Elsie is more than she appears, ensuing much laughter in this British comedy of manners.

The cast also includes Michael Simkins, Marcus Onilude, Gabriel Howell and Maddie Holliday, with understudies Charlotte Bradley, Christopher Jordan, Barnaby Taylor and Cathy Walker.

The Unfriend is designed by Robert Jones, with lighting by Mark Henderson, sound by Ella Wahlström, video design by Andrzej Goulding and casting by Charlotte Sutton CDG.

The Unfriend is at the Criterion Theatre until 16 April 2023. Tickets are on sale now here.

Read a round-up of reviews for The Unfriend from the UK press below, including the Times, Telegraph, Evening Standard and more.

The Unfriend reviews

"This hilarious comedy is from the brilliant trinity that is writer Steven Moffat and director Mark Gatiss, the team behind BBC’s Sherlock, and star of stage and small screen Reece Shearsmith"

"The play effortless romps along with great physicality, underpinned by a tight script and packed with some stand out one-liners."

"Well observed, capturing both the mundanity of suburban family life and the painfully polite manners of typical middle-class Brits – this very funny theatre."

Louise Benham,
The Evening Standard

"Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat give us a riotous bit of fun"

"An uproarious comedy of English embarrassment"

"What a hoot. Amanda Abbington, Reece Shearsmith and Frances Barber excel in this uproarious, if somewhat contrived, comedy of English embarrassment by former Doctor Who and Sherlock showrunner Steven Moffat. The story of a couple too polite and uptight to ask a suspected killer to leave their home, it has the meticulous bourgeois manners and spiraling hysteria of a darker Alan Ayckbourn play."

"What follows is a relentlessly snowballing orgy of cringe and discomfiture."

"But it’s Barber’s Elsa, a glorious grotesque, who gets the best of the show’s many killer lines."

"I can just about remember the days when theatre sneered at TV talent. But this love-in of starry small screen creatives fills a hole in the West End as a much-needed, riotous bit of fun."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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The Stage

"Packed with pithy one-liners"

"Strong performances energise this West End transfer of Steven Moffat’s light, likeable comedy"

"Reece Shearsmith is brilliantly awkward as the uptight Peter."

"Squealing with enthusiasm one moment, bursting into floods of tears the next, then abruptly dropping into a menacing drawl, Barber invests the character with mercurial unpredictability. Meanwhile, Amanda Abbington walks a line between confrontational and conciliatory as wife and mother Debbie, her instinctive desire to take decisive action stifled by the competing needs of her dithering husband and hostile teenage children. "

"this entertaining comedy of manners and murder wrings plenty of light laughs out of its promisingly offbeat set-up."

Dave Fargnoli, The Stage
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"Steven Moffat’s debut play is a disappointingly bland comedy about an English couple who take in a possible serial killer"

"There is an enormous amount of talent sloshing around ‘The Unfriend’. It’s the debut play from former ‘Doctor Who’ showrunner Steven Moffat, it’s directed by his ‘Sherlock’ co-creator Mark Gatiss, and it has a top-notch comedy cast led by Reece Shearsmith, Gatiss’s old mucker from macabre sketch legends The League of Gentlemen. Unfortunately, it’s not very good, with a half-baked script from Moffat dragged down by surprisingly starchy direction from Gatiss."

"It’s an entertaining set-up, with echoes of both the League and Shearsmith’s cult successor show ‘Inside No 9’. But ‘The Unfriend’ is a disappointingly milquetoast affair."

"There’s potential here, and some good bits: Michael Simkins’s terminally pass-agg next door neighbour is funny, as are the couple’s self-absorbed teenage kids Alex and Rosie (Gabriel Howell and Maddie Holliday). But ‘The Unfriend’ never really feels like it’s having that much fun with the whole is-she-isn’t-she-a-murderer thing."

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut
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The Telegraph

"The laugh-out-loud tale of a decidedly terrifying interloperr"

"This story of a couple whose life is invaded by a brash potential serial-killer works its comic magic once again in this West End transfer"

"At Chichester last May... I duly raved, but there was still the nagging thought: am I – and the other approvers – a bit mad, or easily pleased? The show’s transfer to the West End offers no small measure of relief and reassurance."

"And here again, with the original cast intact, is laughter, erupting continuously throughout Mark Gatiss’s impeccable production. To be blunt, the play is no snob hit. It’s done with great craft but little overt sophistication. Sitcomish, it’s not above a running joke about breaking wind and stoops to lavatorial humour. The funny thing is, though, that the chance of being unsure whether its insightfully daft or indulged nonsense marries with the tease contained within the story itself."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
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The Times

"Steven Moffat’s comedy hits the funny bone"

"... with Alan Ayckbourn’s West End supremacy a distant memory and good farces as rare as good news from the Treasury, a broad yet well-aimed riff on Englishness and embarrassment like this first play from Steven Moffat hits the funny bone with a welcome twang."

"Shearsmith makes it look easy, but this is stage comedy acting at its zestful best; the permanently piqued Peter is emotionally legible at all moments. Abbington is an adroitly animated presence, in a less rewarding role. Barber is a joy, stealing scenes with focus as well as fieriness. And, sitcomish though it’s delighted to be, it’s driven by a sense of what constitutes “normal” as well as how easily normality can go."

Dominic Maxwell, The Times
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i News

"Steven Moffat’s house guest comedy is lazy and unfunny"

"Mark Gatiss’s production starring Amanda Abbington and Reece Shearsmith pummels ideas that weren’t amusing to start with into utter oblivion"

"The Unfriend, transferring after a sell-out run at Chichester last year, is a lazy piece of writing that almost certainly would not be in the West End if it did not boast six-time Bafta winner Steven “Sherlock” Moffat as its author."

"If the lines zipped and sparkled this nonsense would be more tolerable, but they do not. Instead, the ruthlessly unfunny scenario grinds on in Mark Gatiss’s production, pummelling ideas that weren’t amusing to start with into utter oblivion by over-extending them."

"In the interest of balance and fairness, I must report that the general audience mood was one of warm laughter. Perhaps I have had a sense of humour bypass. Yet I have seen this play twice now and all I can say is please don’t make me watch it again."

Fiona Mountford, i News
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The Financial Times

"Social awkwardness is a staple of British comedy and there is much about The Unfriend that is very amusing, although some set pieces feel rather over-engineered. There are also, bubbling underneath it, some deeper questions about moral relativism. But it’s the comic ability of the cast in Mark Gatiss’s production that makes the evening."

"Reece Shearsmith and Amanda Abbington, as Peter and Debbie, are exquisitely funny comic actors who bring precision timing to their gestures and facial expressions as they talk their way into excruciating situations. Frances Barber, as the cuckoo in their midst, is likewise a comic delight. Her Elsa is a worthy successor to stage phenomena such as Lady Bracknell and Mrs Malaprop, her voice rolling from squeak to growl as Elsa blithely steamrollers all discomfort around her. And there’s a spot-on performance from Michael Simkins as the neighbour so infuriating that even the playwright declines to give him a name."

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
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The Observer

"Steven Moffat and co flirt with farce"

"Humorous, with a few chiller touches"

"Frances Barber, both luscious and frightening, has a smile so wide she looks capable of carrying out her threat to gobble every one up"

"None of the teasing or nudging lands much of a point, and edginess quickly evaporates – though there is an impressive performance from Gabriel Howell as a teenager who moves from slump to sunshine. Yet at a matinee, an appreciative audience gave a glow of enjoyment to my experience: cosiness reigned; the theatre seemed to be an enormous communal sofa."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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Daily Mail

"A rollicking blast from the past"

"Steven (Sherlock) Moffat's debut is a peculiarly old-fashioned play, a very British comedy of middle-class manners, overflowing with lavatory humour, political incorrectness, excruciating social embarrassment and, in Mark Gatiss's otherwise well-oiled production, a scene-change so archaically lumbering, it's laughable."

"Alas, no magic can make their terminally boring neighbour (gloriously funny Michael Simkins) interesting enough for anyone to remember he exists. In the show's best moment, a blanched, silent, near paralysed Shearsmith strains hopelessly to recall his name."

"The Unfriend is irresistibly light and slight. Go! It's heavenly!"

Georgina Brown, Daily Mail
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The Unfriend

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📷 Main photo: Reece Shearsmith, Frances Barber, Amanda Abbington - photo by Manuel Harlan

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2 thoughts on “The Unfriend Reviews Round-up at the Criterion Theatre”

  1. Another one in general agreement with Fiona Mountford. We laughed a few times but expected so much more. What you think might be a great dark comedy never explores the potential and decides in act two to suddenly enter the realms of farce with the toilet scene (and thus feels as if it’s strayed from another play). I really am at a loss to understand the four-star reviews from so many and it was interesting to observe the audience last night – half laughed a lot, half laughed intermittently. It at least has the advantage of being short (two hours with interval) but it felt longer. Best thing about it is Michael Simkins (both as a performance and his character).

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