'Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York)' review – this new British musical is sweet homage to classic romcoms
Read our three-star review of Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York), starring Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift, which is now in performances at the Kiln Theatre to 20 January.
The titular cake in Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) is a four-tiered wedding cake that costs $1,000. Not to be too pedantic but surely the bakery would deliver it, especially when the bash is being organised by Serena Williams’s wedding planner?
Anyway, this errand is what gives the show its quirky/cumbersome title – it was originally called The Season when first produced regionally in 2019. Twenty-five-year-old Dougal (Sam Tutty, Olivier Award-winner for Dear Evan Hansen) travels from Crawley to New York filled with expectations of father-son bonding at the Christmas wedding of the millionaire father who walked out before he was born.
At the airport, he is met by Robin (Dujonna Gift), the put-upon sister of the much younger bride, and his sort-of step-aunt-to-be. Playing homage to classic romcoms with a platonic twist, this mismatched pair of almost-relations realise that they have more in common that they initially realise when thrown together for 36 hours of various misadventures, with additional soul-searching.
Cinema usher Dougal is something of a stereotypically British bumpkin abroad and filled with childlike enthusiasm (he expects New York to be just like in the movies). However well-meaning, he would be a nuisance to have trailing around, especially if you don’t have the time or headspace to humour him.
Gift gives the stronger vocal performance and her overstretched and sardonic Robin is the more subtly drawn of the two. She’s charged with running last-minute jobs for the high-flying sister she idolises but she isn’t a bridesmaid; in fact, she isn’t even going to the wedding.
She’s unsatisfied with her job as a barista (she isn’t a creative on the side, as Dougal assumes) and has lost touch with her family in Brooklyn. The twist revealing the reason for her estrangement with her sister is somewhat predictable.
The songs by the British pair of Jim Barne and Kit Buchan are effective in providing insight into the character’s feelings and motivations, but they’re mostly functional rather than memorable in their own right. An argument enacted in rhythmic speech to a drumbeat is cleverly executed, however, and credit is deserved for rhyming "GCSEs" with "coeliac disease".
The book features several sweet and (intentionally) cringey moments, but it doesn’t dig all that deeply. Robin’s own experiences of parental abandonment are brushed over in a few lines. There are possibly some signs of neurodiversity in Dougal’s character, and a suggestion that his mother, "Big Polly", with whom he lives "like an old married couple", might have a drink problem.
The way in which only rich people can enjoy the Hollywood version of New York is never discussed in glossy romcoms, where it’s assumed that everyone lives an aspirational lifestyle. In retaliation, this cash-strapped pair get their night on the town thanks to a borrowed credit card.
Director Tim Jackson keeps things moving briskly despite some abrupt changes in tone. Soutra Gilmore’s revolving set design features piles of oversized suitcases assembled like concrete blocks that open up to evoke settings including the skyline, the subway and a Chinese restaurant in one of the last "real" neighbourhoods in New York.
Fittingly, our protagonists are in a better place by the time snow starts to fall, but without things being tied up too neatly. It’s sweet and sentimental without being too schmaltzy, but I wasn’t entirely smitten.
Photo credit: Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) (Photo by Marc Brenner)
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