Reviews Roundup: Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York)

The Criterion

Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift In Two Strangers. Photo: Tristram Kenton

The musical Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York) underwent considerable development over the last few years before arriving at The Kiln in London where it mopped up enough critical and audience acclaim to justify a transfer to the West End. This two-hander tells the story of two 20-somethings in New York for a wedding. Sam Tutty plays an enthusiastic British man who believes all the cliches about the Big Apple, and Dujonna Gift is a cynical New Yorker who puts him right. The plot is essentially as it says in the title.

The reviews for its West End reincarnation (average 4.3★) were even more enthusiastic than those for its Kiln run (average 3.8★). This is particularly interesting because many review outlets chose not to visit the show a second time, and leads one to question whether this best serves the readers. Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift received high praise, Jim Barne and Kit Buchan’s script is frequently complimented for its comedy and for being an unpredictable rom-com. Their score is generally- but not universally- liked, as are Tim Jackson’s direction and Soutra Gilmour’s set.
[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]
Alex Wood at WhatsOnStage (5★) thought it was ‘heartfelt, intimate, messy and utterly endearing’. He proclaimed:  ‘Barne and Buchan’s book is up there with the funniest in the West End right now – both Tutty and Gift have the audiences in the palms of their hands with every wisecrack, wordplay and whimsy.’ And he liked the music: ‘The tunes themselves are for the most part big, catchy and chipper.’  Theatre Weekly’s Greg Stewart (5★) was also full of praise for them: ‘our leads have perfectly mastered the comic timing required to pull off the delicate balance between humour and pathos.’ And he loved the music: ‘Barne and Buchan’s spectacular score, which is constantly surprising, and consistently satisfying’. He was in no doubt, ‘it will melt your heart’.
Caroline McGinn at Time Out (4★) found the musical rom-com ‘not too sickly, but perfectly sweet.’ It was, she said, ‘carried joyfully onwards and upwards by the wit and charm of its excellent cast, its upbeat music and outstanding libretto.’
The cake failed to rise for Olivia Garrett at Radio Times (3★). She described it as ‘fresh, funky’ but also ‘muddled and tonally confusing’, explaining ‘the story moves from happy to sad to silly and back again’. Dominic Maxwell in The Sunday Times (3★) concluded: ‘Tutty and Gift excel, and earn their standing ovation. Yet the contrivances pile up, and there is a sense of almost-there about an appealing yet underplotted show.

Two stars carry a play across London

For more opinions, we must turn to the reviews of the run at The Kiln. We won’t count the ones who sent a reviewer to both venues, like Alex Hood at WhatsOn Stage who awarded 3 stars (as opposed to the more recent 5 from his managing editor), or Greg Stewart at TheatreWeekly who saw it twice and gave it 5 stars on both occasions.
Kate Kellaway in The Observer (5★) describing it as ‘fresh, funny, ironic, inventive and moving’, analysed it thus: ‘its charm is in an intelligently calculated magic that does not lose sight of real life in all its bittersweetness and struggle.’  She concluded: ‘Tim Jackson’s production – no conventional romcom – is flawless. This show rings – and sings – true.’
David Jays in The Guardian (4★) took a similar view: ‘Funny, heartfelt but unsentimental, it’s a charmer…just the right mix of sugar and sour.’ He observed, ‘Soutra Gilmour’s set design, two skyscrapers of frost-shaded luggage circling on an endless carousel, perfectly captures the mood.’
Marianka Swain in The Telegraph (4★) thought the show was ‘a total charmer’. As for the stars, ‘They have contrasting but beautifully complementary voices – one sweet and fluting, one rich and powerful.’  At The Standard (4★) Nick Curtis noted: ‘the knowing schmaltz of Jim Barne and Kit Buchan’s script and score is undercut with larky wit and a determination to not always do the obvious.’
Patrick Marmion at the Mail (4★) thought ‘Tim Jackson’s production is pitched perfectly between fantasy and reality on Soutra Gilmour’s set of high-rise suitcases.’ For The Independent’s Alice Saville (4★), ‘the jokes land like a blizzard of falling snow. ‘
Cindy Marcolina writing for Broadway World (3★) was not won over. She liked the stars: ‘They both excel in the roles,’ and praised the director, ‘Tim Jackson orchestrates remarkable comic timing’ but ‘It’s the material that’s, regrettably, nothing special.’ Paul Vale in The Stage (3★) was another who thought ‘too few of the songs live up to the drama’.
Clive Davis in The Times (3 ‘★) got close to loving it: ‘What a tantalising near miss.’ He saw in it ‘lots of charm and impressive central performances from Dujonna Gift and Sam Tutty…The songs are tuneful enough, and the lyrics are subtle, but in the end the (writers) don’t quite make you care enough about what will happen to the two characters.’ That ‘near miss’ might have become a hit had he attended the West End opening night: one of his readers commented recently: ‘I’ve just seen it again, at the Criterion this time, and was delighted to see that they have improved the show since its run at the Kiln.’
Two Strangers (carry a cake across New York) is running at The Criterion until 31 August 2024. Buy tickets directly here

Average critics’ rating 4.2★
Value Rating 61 (Value rating is the Average Critic Rating divided by the typical ticket price. In theory, this means the higher the score the better value but, because of price variations, a West End show could be excellent value if it scores above 30 while an off-West End show may need to score above 60.)

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