Review: The Unfriend


by Mike Matthaiakis

The Unfriend“, the latest theatrical collaboration from Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, continues to captivate audiences with its rip-roaring success. Known for their television triumphs such as Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Dracula, Moffat and Gatiss make an impressive debut in the theater world with this excruciatingly entertaining play.

Premiering at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2022, the comedy has quickly ascended to a West End run at the Criterion in 2023 and now boasts a second run at Wyndham’s Theatre a year later, solidifying its popularity. The addition of comedian Lee Mack as the groaning, middle-aged suburbanite Peter, alongside Sarah Alexander as his wife Debbie and Frances Barber as the brash American Elsa, brings a fresh dynamic to this absurd comedy of manners.

Directed by Mark Gatiss, the production strikes a delightful balance between a play and a sitcom, perfectly complementing Lee Mack’s brand of comedy. Mack, renowned for his work on Would I Lie to You? and Not Going Out, shines as he satirizes the uptight, middle-class Brit, bringing an energetic and nervous charm to the character. Mack’s physical comedy, including a memorable scene focused on toilet humor, showcases his versatility and comedic prowess.

Frances Barber, reprising her role as the Trump-supporting Covid-denier Elsa, steals the show in the first half. Her portrayal adds necessary bite to the play, reminiscent of Carole Baskin, stirring up the suburban street and cutting through British awkwardness with directness. Barber’s delivery, coupled with her ability to evade accusations with vague and misleading answers, enhances the overall comedic experience.

The characters in “The Unfriend” constantly navigate and challenge boundaries, and designer Robert Jones visually amplifies this theme in the staging of Peter and Debbie’s home. The seemingly cozy house is juxtaposed with projections of other red-brick homes, creating a sense of claustrophobia that mirrors the interpersonal dynamics at play.

While the pace experiences a slight lag post-revelation about Elsa and her surprise appearance at Peter and Debbie’s home, the second half sees Alexander and Mack returning with renewed vigor, maintaining the play’s momentum. Though some instances of toilet humor may extend a bit too long, the overall accomplishment of the production overshadows these minor concerns.

“The Unfriend” stands out as a masterfully crafted production that skillfully blends comedy and discomfort. As manners are tested and boundaries pushed, Moffat and Gatiss deliver a theatrical experience that keeps audiences engaged, entertained, and laughing throughout. With its successful blend of talent, humor, and clever design choices, “The Unfriend” continues to establish itself as a must-see play in the theatrical landscape.