Two Strangers review: Does Broadway beckon for young stars' romcom?

Two Strangers review: Does Broadway beckon for young stars’ sweet Big Apple romcom? writes PATRICK MARMION

Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) (Kiln Theatre, London)

Verdict: Hot Tutty


What a difference a star makes. Best known for winning an Olivier Award for the title role in the (very peculiar) teenage suicide musical Dear Evan Hansen, Sam Tutty goes and sprinkles stardust all over this much smaller and sweeter two-person musical romcom set in New York. Tutty shows himself a delightful fusion of Ed Sheeran and Andrew Scott.

I first saw Jim Barne and Kit Buchan’s show Two Strangers at the Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich in 2019 when it was called The Season. 

Back then, the oddball tale of a twentysomething big kid flying out for his estranged dad’s wedding — only to fall for the sister of the bride — seemed likeable but low wattage. Now, thanks to Tutty’s glowing presence, it twinkles like the Manhattan skyline.

And it’s the characters who get it over the line in a show that’s also a homage to films such as When Harry Met Sally and Moonstruck. 

Theatrical production Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York)

Patrick Marmion: It’s the characters who get it over the line in a show that’s also a homage to films such as When Harry Met Sally and Moonstruck

Tutty is a naive, excitable son of a single mum who’s delightfully unpredictable with his teasing ways. His job is to exhume the deeply buried sense of fun in Dujonna Gift’s Robin — the sassy barista who meets him at the airport. But she also gets to put him on the spot later on.

The script crackles with quality gags and lyrics include the priceless line to his Mum: ‘I’m wearing the suit with scuffs in its knees, the one we got for my GCSEs.’ 

And the great thing about the score is that it has no big agenda. It skips cheerfully along with the story, tossing in familiar melodies from Sinatra, fun bits of rap, a couple of melancholy torch songs and a spoof of sappy Christmas classics.

Tim Jackson’s production is pitched perfectly between fantasy and reality on Soutra Gilmour’s set of high-rise suitcases. 

These suggest the city’s boulevards but also open up as bathroom cabinets, subway seats and a mini-bar at the Plaza Hotel. The big test for such a sweet show is if it could make it in New York. 

If it can make it there, it can make it anywhere. And with Tutty, it might just stand a chance.

Mates in Chelsea (Royal Court Theatre, London)

Verdict: Toothless  


Star quality doesn’t of course guarantee success. Much depends on the material. That is certainly evident from Rory Mullarkey’s high society satire Mates In Chelsea. It stars the effortlessly mercurial Laurie Kynaston, who was rightly lauded for his devastating turn in Florian Zeller’s West End drama The Son (first seen at the Kiln Theatre in 2019).

Here, though, Kynaston plays Theodore — or Tug to his mates in Chelsea — an indolent trustafarian viscount alarmed to discover from his properly equine, Barbour-clad mother (Fenella Woolgar) that he has run out of dosh. 

Pictured: Laurie Kynaston in Mates in Chelsea

She’s flogging the family castle in Northumberland to a Russian oligarch and escaping to South Korea with a French lesbian lover. 

The comedy is billed as fusing Oscar Wilde and P.G. Wodehouse, and exhibits some small wit and (to begin with), the semblance of a plot.

Kynaston looks fabulously louche and tremendously insouciant. He could surely carry a much bigger, better show effortlessly. 

But much as I admired Mullarkey’s anarchic tone, he would have done well to plagiarise Sheridan or Goldsmith’s 18th-century satires of the idle rich and offered us much meatier bloodsport.

Feeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen (Bush Theatre, London)

Verdict: Juvenile 


Another example of a fine actor who falls foul of thin material is Samuel Barnett — best known as one of the original cast from Alan Bennett’s The History Boys at the National Theatre in 2004. 

Now, in Feeling Afraid…he’s a nameless, small-time gay comedian, obsessed with dating websites and trapped in sexually abusive relationships.

Written by Marcelo Dos Santos — author of the tittering Carry On comedy Backstairs Billy starring Penelope Wilton, which opened in the West End last week — the big joke is that our hero’s path to sexual and psychological-self-destruction is obstructed by a gentle Californian PhD student.

Said student suffers from cataplexy — a rare condition that can kill a victim when laughing. Can the pair survive such a painfully contrived set-up? I know I couldn’t (which is not really true).

Barnett is inventively mannered and inflected with light northern camp as he gabbles into a microphone like a stand-up in Matthew Xia’s slick, high-speed production. 

It’s a convincing portrait of sexual incontinence, phoney existential angst and emotional immaturity.

But I’d rather see Dos Santos get over himself, grow up and take on more challenging material.

Patrick Marmion: Now, in Feeling Afraid…he’s a nameless, small-time gay comedian, obsessed with dating websites and trapped in sexually abusive relationships

Patrick Marmion: But I’d rather see Dos Santos get over himself, grow up and take on more challenging material

To Have and to Hold (Hampstead Theatre, London)

Verdict: Bittersweet sitcom


The secret of growing rhubarb, according to cheery Yorkshire man-mountain Rhubarb Eddie in Richard Bean’s semi-autobiographical new play, is horse manure. ‘Do you force it?’ asks someone. ‘No. I have nowt to do with horse,’ replies Eddie, alarmed.

It’s just one of many great gags in Bean’s bittersweet comedy that’s also a moving eulogy to his parents, set in the (real) village of Wetwang, East Riding.

His 91-year-old dad is portrayed as a masterful grump, recording stories from his time as a copper in between coughing fits.

He and Mum are heartily fed-up with each other after 70 years of marriage, but crime writer son and healthcare business manager daughter are up for the weekend from London and Cornwall to give some respite care.

Sadly, while ‘helping’, they come to suspect family friend Eddie of ripping off their old folks, when he goes to get them cash from the bank.

Alun Armstrong in To Have And To Hold at Hampstead Theatre

Aside from the jokes (including one about children having to use parental controls to stop elderly parents straying on to porn channels), the play has its serious side, too.

Not only is the parents’ health failing (Dad is hacking up blood), they are isolated — geographically, from family; and in tech terms, too: adrift from the digital world that orders most of our lives.

Fittingly directed by Richard Wilson of Victor Meldrew fame (with a little help from Terry Johnson), the tribute to Bean’s parents could have been titled Four Feet In The Grave.

Alun Armstrong’s Dad yearns for the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, but has never been abroad.

Marion Bailey’s Mum lives in fear of passing flashers, attracted by her pampas grass (a well-known sign, apparently, for swingers).

For me, though, Adrian Hood stole the show as Rhubarb Eddie, the enormous local fixer in his muddy wellies who loves nothing better than lolling in the family’s spring-operated armchair recliner.

Yes, it’s a little sedentary. And maybe Bean could have dug deeper into his play’s emotional agonies.

But I was grateful for the laughs, which somehow helped to crystallise the sadness of our society: divided between the young and old — those who have flown the nest and the loved ones they left behind.

Flip! (Soho Theatre, London)

Verdict: Prices versus values


By Georgina Brown 

Carleen and Crystal are bubbly, social-media-savvy 20-somethings having fun sharing ideas about whatever they feel like on WePipe, a popular vlog. 

Topics such as ‘What I did on my birthday’. Heartfelt, homespun, honest, even if they are beginning to wonder if their online performance is drifting from their authentic selves.

Then new platform Flip! explodes on to the scene offering little influencers like them the opportunity to go global and get rich quick in exchange for access to their internet image footprint. It sounds painless. But how much does one’s soul — integrity, morality, honesty — really cost?

At one level Racheal Ofori’s sassy if overstuffed satire is an old-fashioned Faustian parable about the personal price of fame and fortune. At another it’s an up-to- the-minute exposé of the possible (mis)applications of AI.

Emily Aboud’s breathless production is powered by terrific performances from Leah St Luce and Jadesola Odunjo. If I were an influencer, I’d be wincing and recommend a night in front of a screen instead.

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