Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) | Review, The Criterion Theatre, London

“Christmas music is the breath of life” may have been my favourite line in the show.

It also tells you almost everything you need to know about the speaker, Dougal, an English guy in his mid-twenties who is bursting with excitement at the start of Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York), the new musical starring Olivier Award winner, Sam Tutty (Dear Evan Hansen), and the equally talented Dujonna Gift (Hamilton, Galentine’s day) that just opened at the Criterion Theatre in London. These two are not just the stars, they are the entire cast of the show, which revolves around Dougal’s exciting (omg is he excited) trip to New York City – “The Big Apple… Twinkle town… City of Angels” – for the wedding of his father that he has never met, to a woman 26 years his junior.

As the audience arrive, we hear muffled airport announcements, setting the scene before the show has even begun. The stage is piled high with suitcases (all white), with one lone case revolving around them as if on a baggage conveyer belt. It turns out, those suitcases aren’t just baggage; they’re the entire set… Soutra Gilmour’s genius set is as minimalist as the show’s cast and just as brilliant! A giant case opens at the side to become a closet, another pulls down to become a table in a restaurant, this incredible set has every scene packed like a puzzle into these 2 piles of white cases. It’s so original, absolutely delightful, and full of surprises, much like the rest of the show.

So, Dougal has arrived in New York, he’s so excited, then he meets Robin – the sister of his future stepmother, she’s from NYC and much less excited to be there. It’s a classic optimist and realist clash situation, but with some lovely twists and turns in their relationship that keep the show moving and the audience engaged throughout, and yes, for some of the show they are carrying a cake (the wedding cake) across New York as the bracketed subtitle would suggest. Do they get the cake there? That would be spoiling!

It’s a show about people, about connection, about absentee fathers and brilliant mothers – although you don’t ever see her, the spirit of Dougal’s amazing mother, ‘Big Pol’, looms large and smiling over the show, like an ever present guardian angel, in the same way his shitty father ‘Mark’ casts a pretty significant shadow over it, and Dougal’s life. The show’s ability to render these characters vividly real, unseen as they are, stands as a tribute to Jim Barne and Kit Buchan’s brilliant writing. And I haven’t even mentioned the music yet!
From the utter joy (I was grinning ear to ear) of Tutty’s opening number, New York, to Gift’s melancholic and painfully relatable Be Happy, the songs had me laughing, crying, and more than a little blown away by the power of these two young incredible performers. The fact these two actors can captivate a sold out audience for 2 hours, with none of the usual West End support of an entire chorus singing and dancing behind them, is a tribute not only to them, but to the writers, the director (Tim Jackson) and of course Gilmour’s wonderful set.

In case I haven’t made it clear enough with my gushing, Two Strangers… is a hit and not to be missed. During early development, it won a Stage Debut Best Composer/Lyricist award, it then transferred to the West End after a record breaking run at The Kiln Theatre, and I confidently expect it to end up transferring to Broadway at some point in the near future. For now, however, it is on at The Criterion theatre in Piccadilly Circus, London, until the 14th July. Don’t miss the chance to experience this unforgettable show!

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Words Nick Barr

Photography Mark Senior

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