The Unfriend seeks a friendly new home in the West End

The producers of hit comedy The Unfriend at the Criterion Theatre are looking for a new West End venue for their play.

The show is scheduled to close at the Criterion on 16 April 2023, making way for Dickens mash-up Bleak Expectations, which runs from 3 May to 3 September 2023.

Written by Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Sherlock), The Unfriend is directed by Mark Gatiss and stars Reece Shearsmith, Amanda Abbington and Frances Barber.

The Stage is reporting that the play has broken box office records at the Criterion, with producers saying that it’s the only show at the Criterion to have ever held more than £1 million in advance sales at the box office.

The Unfriend started its run on 15 January 2023 at the Criterion Theatre, following a successful premiere at the Chichester Festival Theatre. The comedy scored mainly good reviews for its current London run.

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

Some complex negotiations are presumably going on behind-the-scenes between the producers of the comedy, Playful Productions, and West End theatre owners, to try and secure a new London venue.

It’s extremely tough to book a West End theatre at the moment, with more shows wanting to come in to London than there are theatres, partly due to the backlog of projects that built up over the Covid shutdowns.

That may explain why the show’s producer, writer and director have all made impassioned statements to The Stage to highlight the show’s current – and potential ongoing – success.

Producer Matthew Byam Shaw, from Playful Productions, said that, “Our run at the Criterion has left us all wanting more and we are determined to find a way to bring the show back and let more people revel in the brilliance of Steven Moffat’s writing and Mark Gatiss’ direction.”

Steven Moffat also commented that, “Given our packed houses and the roof-busting level of our laughter, it’s hard to believe it all has to end on April 16. But who knows?”; and Mark Gatiss said: “It’s pure joy to sit among the Criterion audience having an absolute whale of a time at our show. And it’s thrilling to see just how popular it’s proved to be. It would be wonderful to think that, unlike an unwanted house guest, The Unfriend is here to stay.”

Playful Productions are no strangers to moving West End shows when they are successful. They are currently producing Ivo van Hove’s adaptation of A Little Life starring James Norton, which opens at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London on 25 March, and then – due to unprecedented demand – relocates to  the Savoy Theatre in London from 4 July to 5 August 2023. Both venues are owned by ATG.

Playful are also general managers of Wicked and Moulin Rouge! in the West End, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and My Fair Lady on tour, and the forthcoming West End transfer of MJ The Musical.

The Criterion Theatre, owned by The Criterion Theatre Trust, is one of the few remaining independent theatres in the West End not owned by a large group.

Shows do manage to leave the Criterion for other venues! Prior to The Unfriend, 2:22 A Ghost Story made a stop there between the Delfont Mackintosh-owned Gielgud Theatre and Nimax-owned Lyric Theatre, where it is currently playing starring Cheryl.

The Unfriend is directed by Mark Gatiss, who is on a London theatre roll at the moment. He recently directed new play The Way Old Friends Do at the Park Theatre, which had its press night on Monday and runs until 15 April. It was also announced this week that his production of A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story, which he adapted and directed, is heading back to the Alexandra Palace this Christmas. Plus he is keeping his hand in on acting, starring as John Gielgud in the new Jack Thorne play The Motive and the Cue at the National Theatre in April, directed by Sam Mendes.

Book tickets to The Unfriend at the Criterion Theatre in London

📷 Main photo: Amanda Abbington, Reece Shearsmith, Maddie Holliday, Frances Barber, Gabriel Howell - photo by Manuel Harlan

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