'Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York)' review – prepare to fall in love with this charming romcom

Read our review of Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York), starring Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift, now in performances at the Criterion Theatre to 31 August.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

Continuing the fantastic recent run of new British musicals – from Operation Mincemeat to Standing at the Sky’s Edge – it’s a huge pleasure to see Jim Barne and Kit Buchan’s Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) making its journey across London from the Kiln, where it had a crucial development run, to the West End.

Happily, the transfer hasn’t disrupted the gentle charm of this gorgeous two-hander – quite the opposite. Tim Jackson’s production is still an intimate experience, honing in on a pair of lost souls, but Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift have subtly expanded their excellent performances to suit the new space. Plus their vocals soar magnificently in the Criterion.

Two Strangers is both a send-up of cheesy romcoms and a bit of a cheesy romcom itself – very much having its cake and eating it too. Puppyish cinephile Brit Dougal (Tutty), a “golden retriever with zero boundaries”, has arrived in New York for the Christmas wedding of his estranged father, and he expects both the city and their meeting to be like a scene from one of his favourite movies.

It’s the polar-opposite attitude to world-weary New Yorker Robin (Gift), a directionless barista whose high-powered sister Melissa is the bridezilla. Something significant has happened to cause a rift in their family – one of several plot threads that the show patiently teases out as it builds a whole world of unseen characters.

You get pretty much everything you need to know about 25-year-old Dougal’s close relationship with his overbearing mum, Big Polly, while listening to his side of a phone conversation. “Yes, I remembered my inhaler… No, I won’t do heroin.” Meanwhile Robin sums up Melissa with “She wants to have the same honeymoon as Serena Williams”.

Barne and Buchan have crafted a sharp modern update to the Richard Curtis-esque Transatlantic meet-cute, adding welcome spice to that treacly recipe. One hilarious song explores the perils of Tinder dating, and Robin astutely observes that the glossy New York of the movies requires money to access.

The varied score is brimming with clever pastiche, such as a swinging spoof of Sinatra-era Christmas songs with pervy subtext, or the standout “American Express”, which fulfils the Big Apple dream for just one night. That’s juxtaposed with a panicked morning-after patter song, and several wistful contemporary ballads. One reminded me of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the HeightsTwo Strangers is in conversation with musical theatre history.

Most importantly, both the script and the songs are always specific to these characters and this moment. Tutty, already an Olivier winner for Dear Evan Hansen, delivers all of the “awkward Brit” gags with magnificent comic timing, but can also switch in a second to raw vulnerability.

While Dougal suffers from a particular kind of arrested development, Gift’s Robin outwardly has it all together, yet she is waiting for her life to begin. Many people will identify with her heartbreaking admission that she doesn’t know how to “be happy”, as everyone keeps telling her.

Soutra Gilmour’s ingenious design features a pile of suitcases that open up to become subway seats, a cocktail bar, a hotel bed, or a Chinese restaurant. Jackson also utilises the revolve thoughtfully to chart not just locations but how they make us feel – a key theme in the musical.

It’s that rare show in which you really take the characters to heart, and this contrasting pair are beautifully balanced on their parallel journeys to self-acceptance. Robin helps Dougal grow up with a dose of reality, while he lightens her life with some joyful fantasy. Two Strangers has just the right amount of each.

Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) is at the Criterion Theatre through 14 July. Book Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) tickets on London Theatre.

Book Tickets CTA - LT/NYTG

Photo credit: Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) (Photo by Tristram Kenton)

Originally published on

Subscribe to our newsletter to unlock exclusive London theatre updates!

Special offers, reviews and release dates for the best shows in town.

You can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy