Growing up in New York, I was raised on some of the most iconic Broadway shows performed by some very incredible actors. I was privileged to be able to live by and experience the epicenter of the theater industry, and have always been fascinated with live theater as an art. A large part of why I chose to study abroad in London is because of the amazing West End theatre and what it has to offer.
After taking a class on media in Britain and learning about the intricacies of British humor, I grew interested in comparing the American media I am used to and the British media that I am immersed in as a study abroad student. However, much of the British media I’ve seen has been in the form of movies or television shows. I figured that it would be interesting to see how this form of entertainment, rather than pre-recorded movies or TV, would compare.
When my parents came to visit me the other week, we decided to go see The Unfriend, a dark comedy written by highly-accredited Steven Moffat. The play focuses on Peter and Debbie, a British couple who are parents to Alex and Rosie. It begins on a cruise, with Peter and Debbie meeting Elsa, a flamboyant and hilarious American. Sporting her velour tracksuit and oversized sunglasses, Elsa’s personality and presence had the audience laughing from the moment she came on stage.
What makes Elsa’s character even funnier, is that Peter and Debbie end up finding out she is a serial killer after having invited her to their family’s home. Upon a quick Google search, it was found that she was tied to a string of 6 murders, one murder having been her own husband. To their dismay, Elsa arrived days before she was supposed to. The couple was no longer able to send a quick email letting her know she would no longer be able to come. Instead, they were forced to confront her in person, making for a very uncomfortable yet humorous rest of the show.
The typical “British politeness” is something I’ve noticed a lot in British media. It very evidently comes into play during the performance as manners often get in the way of Peter and Debbie’s desires. This internal conflict between wanting to be polite in true British nature, versus the motivations they have for themselves as parents calls for a very cringe yet funny dynamic between the cast of characters. Much of the comedy within the performance was built from awkward situations, which I found very charming and unique as an American.
One thing I did notice was that the sets and costumes were very mundane. The majority of the play took place on the set of a typical family home. This normally would be slightly off-putting for me in media as I often admire elaborate costumes or set designs. The comedy and plot itself were also simplistic, but in reality, added much to the show. There was no trying too hard that made it cheesy. It felt real and more so an imitation of life, rather than a dramatization like I often find to be the case in American media. This is what I particularly loved about the play: unlike American media, British media leans more into simplicity and relies on good writing and acting to make it a successful piece of art rather than material grandeur.
Overall, I had a great time watching The Unfriend and highly recommended it to anyone looking for a laugh. It has undoubtedly been one of my favorite shows I’ve seen in a while and has proven to be widely popular across the board.
By: Maddy Adler