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Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) at Criterion Theatre

Analyse the storyline deep enough and some of it becomes inevitable – alternative outcomes would invariably require additional actors on stage. While it isn’t strictly true that Robin (Dujonna Gift) and Dougal (Sam Tutty) play only their named characters throughout, and their various accents are impressive across the board, there were points in the storyline that became intriguing at least partly for the way in which they would be resolved given that nobody else was ever going to show up in any given scene.
Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York). Criterion Theatre. Credit Tristram Kenton.
Dougal’s father is getting married to Robin’s sister, although they have never met before – hence the title, and Dougal has never even met his father before, as he left his mother prior to Dougal’s birth. The show is not without stereotypes, but they are reversed here, with gloriously amusing results: Robin, an American lady who works in a coffee shop, is pragmatic and wants to keep her head down and get on with life without thinking too much or saying too much about why things are ‘complicated’ for her, while Dougal, visiting New York from Britain having accepted a wedding invite, is overwhelmingly positive – almost unbelievably so – looking at New York through rose-tinted lenses.

There are astutely observed references to romantic comedies and what might happen if their lives played out like a motion picture. I liked a number called ‘Under The Mistletoe’, about the absurdities of holiday season standards – not church carols (some of which, of course, have their own peculiarities), but the ones superficially about Santa Claus, chestnuts and chimneys, which, in the eyes of Robin and Dougal, are really about bedroom activity. Some playful takes on British and American English, and how the US and UK can be two countries divided by a common language, were well written, and far from the usual differences people have heard a thousand times before.

So why is there a reference to cake carrying in the show’s title? Robin is tasked by Melissa, the bride getting hitched to Dougal’s father, with various errands, and Dougal is so keen to tag along that Robin relents. One of the errands involves collecting the cake from the store that made it – to say anymore would be giving too much away. A revolving set (Soutra Gilmour) helps to make scene changes brisk, and the large number of on-stage suitcases of various sizes are used inventively, to create almost anything from Dougal’s budget hotel room to a busy restaurant.

The musical numbers are sufficiently varied, and these are characters that are easy to connect with and stay connected with. They are so different from one another that it feels (and is) contrived, but that doesn’t ultimately matter in a show with central characters that the audience gets to know very well very quickly. It’s somewhat removed from the long-standing West End musicals, in that song and spoken word are sometimes so intricately linked, and not every song ends with a big, majestic flourish. And it works.

I didn’t see the show in its previous incarnation at Kiln Theatre. Nonetheless, it’s unsurprising that it sold out there prior to this West End run, and being in a larger space didn’t make the show, which covers a lot of ground, make me wish I had seen it somewhere smaller. Much of this is down to the sheer stage presence that emanates from both actors. The show does well to avoid being overly saccharine as well as being overly courageous when it comes to overcoming life’s obstacles and challenges. A warm and delightful production that proves that it’s possible to have one’s cake and eat it after all.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) is currently running to Sunday 14th July 2024.
Criterion Theatre

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