West end round-up The Unfriend and In Dreams Reviews

The Unfriend returns to the West End starring Lee Mack, Sarah Alexander & Frances Barber

The producers of The Unfriend have found a new West End home for the hit comedy.

They were looking back in March to move the sold-out show from the Criterion Theatre, where it closed in April, to a new West End venue.

The good news is that The Unfriend will now open at the Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End this Christmas, playing from 16 December 2023 to 9 March 2024.

Written by Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Sherlock), The Unfriend is directed by Mark Gatiss, and is set to star Lee Mack (Would I Lie To You, Not Going Out) as Peter, Sarah Alexander (Pennyworth, Coupling, Jonathan Creek) as Debbie, and once again Frances Barber (Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool) as Elsa Jean Krakowski.

The Neighbour will be played by Nick Sampson (Witness for the Prosecution), with further casting to be announced.

The show previously featured Reece Shearsmith as Peter, Amanda Abbington as Debbie, and Michael Simkins as The Neighbour.

The Unfriend started its run on 15 January 2023 at the Criterion Theatre, following a successful premiere at the Chichester Festival Theatre. The comedy scored mainly good reviews for its London run, and broke box office records, holding more than £1 million in advance sales at the Criterion box office.

Lee Mack recently guest starred at the Criterion Theatre, in the venue’s current production of Bleak Expectations.

The show’s producers, Playful Productions, are also currently producing Ivo van Hove’s adaptation of A Little Life starring James Norton, and are general managers of Wicked and Moulin Rouge! in the West End, and forthcoming Broadway transfer of MJ The Musical.

The Unfriend is directed by Mark Gatiss, who is on a London theatre roll at the moment. His production of comedyThe Way Old Friends Do is getting a West End transfer to the Criterion Theatre, starting 17 August 2023; his production of A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story, which he adapted and directed, is heading back to the Alexandra Palace this Christmas; and he is currently starring as as John Gielgud in the new Jack Thorne play The Motive and the Cue at the National Theatre, which is heading to the Noel Coward Theatre from 9 December 2023.

In Dreams Reviews | West End Theatre

Director Luke Shepherd and writer David West Read, who scored a hit with West End – and now Broadway – success & Juliet, are hoping that lightning strikes twice with their new musical In Dreams.

First announced late last year, the show features music legend Roy Orbison’s most iconic songs, in a story about the former lead singer of a country rock band who, at a critical moment in her life, throws a party in a family-run Mexican restaurant to reconnect with old friends, while keeping her deeper motivations a secret.

In Dreams is playing at Leeds Playhouse to 5 August 2023, and then playing Toronto’s CAA Theatre from September to December 2023. Rumours are circulating of a West End transfer, although no details have been announced.

The Leeds production stars Tony Award-winner Lena Hall (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) in the lead role, alongside West End favourite Oliver Tompsett (Wicked, & Juliet, We Will Rock You, Pretty Woman, Kinky Boots) and Noël Sullivan (Hear’Say, School of Rock).

The cast also includes Manuel Pacific (West Side Story, City of Angels), Gabriela García (A Streetcar Named Desire, West Side Story), Sian Reese-Williams (Craith, Emmerdale), Alma Cuervo, Richard Trinder, Leon Craig, Mark Peachey, Fabiola Ocasio, Hannah Ducharme, and Pablo Gómez; and band includes Patrick Hurley – Music Director/Keys, Steve Bramwell – Guitar, David Keech – Percussion, Rachel Steadman – Violin/Viola and Gordon Davidson – Electric Bass/Double Bass.

In Dreams is written by Emmy and Golden Globe-winner David West Read, who was a writer and Executive Producer on Schitt’s Creek, and wrote & Juliet.

Director of the show Luke Sheppard (& JulietMy Son’s a Queer (But What Can You Do?) is also about to direct new West End musical The Little Big Things at @sohoplace theatre (2 September to 25 November 2023).

Also in the creative team for In Dreams are Choreographer Fabian Aloise (Evita, Bring It On, Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder); Set Design by Arnulfo Maldonado (A Strange Loop); Costume Design by Fay Fullerton (Mandela, The Drifters Girl); Lighting Design by Howard Hudson (& Juliet); Musical Supervisor Catherine Jayes (The Color Purple); Sound Designer Tom Marshall; Musical Director Patrick Hurley; Video Designer George Reeve; Casting Director Annelie Powell CDG; Stephen Kopel Casting Director (US). Their associates include: Tania Azevedo; Associate Director; Paris Green Associate Choreographer; Oscar Escobedo Associate Designer (US); Verity Sadler Associate Designer (UK); Laura Hunt Costume Supervisor; Callum Wills Sound Associate; and Alice Walters Casting Assistant.

4 stars “Roy Orbison’s hits lift an irresistible show”

“Death has rarely felt so exuberant as it does in this gloriously irreverent musical, which channels the spirit of Roy Orbison for a story of hopes and dreams that’s so cheesy it would give your average Roquefort an identity crisis. The Schitt’s Creek writer David West Read pulls out all the emotional stops for this New Mexico-set tale of Kenna, a country-rock singer who checks into a joint specialising in margaritas, tacos and memorial services for a reunion with a twist.”

“Luke Sheppard’s pacy, colourful production takes Mexico’s Day of the Dead as its inspiration”
“In the true tradition of feelgood musicals, a story unfolds for everybody on Arnulfo Maldonado’s ebullient, cluttered set, filled with vintage neon signs.”

“In a universally strong cast (not least Leon Craig as Tom, the band’s unashamed fanboy), Hall and Tompsett provide a credible and funny emotional core as the wild-at-heart exes. A rigor mortis-defying evening all round.”

“Roy Orbison musical is another bona fide hit for & Juliet team”

“& Juliet‘s director Luke Sheppard and bookwriter David West Read reunite for this new musical”

“One of the strengths of Luke Sheppard’s production is the quality of performances from a main cast of nine and four supports – and, also, the equal spread of opportunities to shine.”

“Of course, none of this would be possible without Orbison’s wonderfully evocative songs, with Patrick Hurley leading a sextet in underpinning the action as well as accompanying full-blooded renditions.”

“Margaritas and mortality in Roy Orbison musical”

“David West Read’s jukebox show brings Orbison’s hits together around an earnest but charmingly performed story of grief”

“Jukebox musicals tend to be all about the feelgood factor. It’s ambitious, then, that David West Read – the writer of & Juliet – has chosen to use Roy Orbison’s songs to consider the experiences of death and grief.”

“Within this structure, the show works hard to pack in as many Orbison hits as possible. Read does a good job of coherently stringing the songs together, yet it sometimes feels as though the dialogue – entertaining though much of it is – serves simply to launch us from one familiar tune to the next. That said, Luke Sheppard’s production does some gorgeous, playful things with the music.”

“The show is best when focusing on the quartet of one-time bandmates as they reminisce about the past and come to terms with the present. It’s all rather earnest, but the charm of the performances and the strength of the music just about carry it through to a conclusion that is – despite the subject matter – feelgood after all.”

“Roy Orbison’s music fuels a grown-up jukebox musical”

“Roy Orbison’s back catalogue provides a poignant backdrop to David West Read’s grown-up jukebox musical about love and loss”

“At face value, the back catalogue of legendary singer-songwriter Roy Orbison seems like an odd choice for a jukebox musical. His complex song structure and dark emotional range are a far cry from the upbeat pop or rock sounds of ABBA, Queen or Take That. Yet it’s author David West Read and director Luke Sheppard – the team behind the vibrantly poppy & Juliet – who have created this refreshingly thoughtful and rather poignant show.”

“The success of this show rests on our affection for Kenna, and Broadway’s Lena Hall is both captivating and convincing as the musician. Behind the wry comebacks and salty language, there’s a vulnerability to the character in which Hall grounds her performance.”

“Sheppard’s production is warm, the performances accomplished and Read’s book, for all its issues, is a gently subversive take on the genre.”

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