THE UNFRIEND | London, Criterion Theatre

There’s not a great deal to cling to in Stephen Moffat’s new comedy. The Chichester Festival Theatre transfer boasts an all-star cast, with veteran actors of stage and screen making up the central players. But, the truth is, the simple-but-effective set-up ends – just there – and the whole thing feels a long way from being the slickly contrived farce it so desperately tries to be.

Sure, there are laughs aplenty, and Reece Shearsmith steals the show in more than one moment. But, all too often, the dialogue feels straight out of a nineties sitcom – funny, but a little dusty, and occasionally even punching down. I could see it finding a better home at 9pm on ITV; I don’t see why it should be on the stage.

Gatiss’ direction absolutely does the job though, and brings out the most in his already adept actors. Along the way, Frances Barber tries to steal the limelight from Shearsmith, with what can only be described as a wonderfully vampish “turn”, and, luckily for the audience, she succeeds.

It’s not the new Noises Off, but perhaps that doesn’t matter. If for nothing else, go and see it because we all desperately need a laugh, and it certainly delivers enough.

Playing at the Criterion Theatre in London’s West End, 15 January – 16 April 2023.

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