Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift on bringing 'Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York)' to the West End

Olivier Award winner Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift star in Jim Barne and Kit Buchan’s new British musical, which has just opened at the West End's Criterion Theatre.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

Love is in the air as Jim Barne and Kit Buchan’s heartfelt musical rom-com Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) comes to the West End. The show had a hugely successful premiere run last year at the Kiln Theatre in north-west London.

Two Strangers follows the opposites-attract duo of Tiggerish Brit Dougal, who has flown to New York for his estranged dad’s wedding, and cynical native Robin, whose scarily high-powered sister is the bride.

This intimate two-hander stars Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift. Tutty won an Olivier Award for Dear Evan Hansen, while Gift’s West End shows include Hamilton and Motown: The Musical.

The pair are reprising their acclaimed performances in this exciting new run at the Criterion Theatre.

Who do you play in Two Strangers?

Dujonna Gift: I play Robin. She’s caught up in a quarter-life crisis, living in a city that’s very much on the go whilst she’s feeling stagnant in life. I think that’s something many people can relate to. In the middle of helping her sister Melissa with wedding planning, she goes to JFK Airport to meet Dougal.

Sam Tutty: So that’s me. Dougal is flying to the US to go to his father’s wedding, and he bumps into Robin. He’s been described as “impossibly upbeat and optimistic”. It’s a fun dynamic between them.

What’s it like just having two cast members?

Gift: It’s unusual for sure. It allowed us to be really on it when it comes to communicating – both as Robin and Dougal, and as Dujonna and Sam. That’s been a lovely experience.

Tutty: It’s like playing a game of tennis. As soon as you finish your line, it’s either you again or the other person. You have to be so present.

Gift: Now Sam will look at me across the stage, and I know immediately what he means – like if he’s missing a prop. Once you get to that level, there’s so much trust between you.

How do you evoke all those unseen characters?

Gift: We worked together on figuring out what each person was like and who they are to us. So, when Robin talks to Dougal about living with her family in Brooklyn, he gets to understand her better – or Robin learns what the stakes are for him, coming on this trip to meet his estranged father.

Tutty: In the first week of rehearsal we actually Googled celebrities who we thought, for instance, Dougal’s dad might look like! It helps us to visualise everyone when we talk about them.

Is it special getting to put your stamp on a new musical?

Gift: Yes, it’s been extra special with this creative team who are so keen on hearing us and allowing our own experiences to inform the characters. Neither of us has explored method acting before, but this gave us a newfound interest in it because there’s so much here we can relate to our everyday lives. Like Sam and Dougal are both from Crawley…

Tutty: Jim [Barne] and Kit [Buchan] asked me where I’m from, and then they put it in! Having that connection makes it more personal. Instead of the actor going towards the character, the character comes to you.

Are you both romcom fans?

Gift: Sam is much more than me…

Tutty: I can understand the idealistic, impossible dream that Dougal has from viewing New York through the movies. Then he’s forced to see the realistic side of the city, so you get a bit of both: the light and the dark.

What’s your favourite song?

Tutty: It changes all the time. Currently mine is “About to Go In”, but sometimes it’s “American Express”, sometimes it’s “Dad”, sometimes it’s watching Dujonna do “Be Happy”.

Gift: My favourite to perform is “This Year”, because it’s Robin’s discovery song, but my favourite as a whole number is “American Express” – it’s a fun song and it fits perfectly, even though it comes out of nowhere.

Are you proud to take this new British musical into the West End?

Gift: Really proud. I think there’s so much room right now for new writing – the success of Two Strangers at the Kiln has proven that. Which is not to say we should kick revivals to the kerb, but if we nurture original work too, we find these really great new artists and new stories to be told.

Tutty: Yes, it’s lovely to have both. You can mount huge musicals about very important people, and then you can also have a show that’s about two people who don’t change the world, but it’s honest and natural. We’re really proud to have worked at the Kiln – we need brilliant off-West End venues like that to grow new shows – and now we’re so happy to bring this to new audiences in the West End.

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Photo credit: Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift in Two Strangers. (Photo courtesy of production)

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