The Unfriend: Steven Moffat Play A Wise-Cracking Nightmare Sitcom

The Unfriend is former Doctor Who and current The Time Traveler's Wife showrunner Steven Moffat's first stage play. It is a raucous satire about an English couple who end up with an unwelcome American houseguest who won't leave, to the point where they fear for their lives.

This is a review of the script of Steven Moffat's first stage play The Unfriend, not the actual production currently running in Chichester, England. To review a play script is to look at the writer's work pure and unfiltered without seeing it produced and interpreted by a director and actors. We heard that Mark Gatiss' direction of the production has the actors find moments of wordless, visual comedy in their gestures and body language.

The Unfriend: Steven Moffat's Play Pushes the Sitcom to Gleeful Nightmare
"The Unfriend" cover art: Nick Hern Books

Peter and Debbie Lindel meet the loud, outgoing, and very American Elsa Jean Krakowski (a British person's stereotypical idea of an American name) on a holiday cruise and exchange addresses. Shortly after they get home, Elsa shows up on their doorstep unannounced to hang out without a departure date. Peter and Debbie Lindel are a very British couple, the type you find in a very British sitcom – middle-aged, tired with two stereotypical teenage kids who hate them, hate each other, and hate their lives, and with a petty, passive-aggressive neighbour so boring he doesn't have a name because they don't remember it, even after living next to him for ten years. Elsa is the elemental force that sweeps into their lives like a hurricane and changes it in ways they never expected. The Unfriend is a British sitcom elevated to Kafkaesque extremes with a gleeful amoral streak that Moffat always exhibited in his TV work but was kept in check there but finally runs rampant here. The Unfriend is what Peter and Debbie wish they could do with Elsa like Facebook, only here she is on their couch, not the computer.

The Unfriend is a raucous satire of the English Disease: the inability of British people to say what's on their mind directly because they've been conditioned to be polite at all times. It's really a middle-class thing. The Lindels are deathly afraid of speaking directly out of fear – fear of confrontation, fear of judgment, fear of potential violence before they even face the fear of being seen as rude or ungracious. Moffat and Gatiss insist the play is entertainment for laughs without any overt political message that snobby, high-minded British critics often demand, but it could be read as an allegory for America's soft colonization of Britain. The entire plot is the age-old "American who breezes into uptight Brits' lives and shakes them up" trope.

It is almost all dependent on dialogue, and thankfully, Moffat is a master of snappy, propulsive dialogue. The Unfriend is Moffat in Sitcom Mode, which is his comfort zone. Moffat has always been adept at screwball comedy banter. It was sitcoms like Joking Apart, the cult classroom sitcom Chalk, and the 20something sex comedy Coupling that put him on the map before he went on to Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Dracula. It was a sitcom verve that he brought to his scripts on Doctor Who, and his natural default to sitcom is what makes The Time Traveler's Wife feel at odds with his reflexive for laughs. His first instinct is always to entertain, and The Unfriend is him in his natural element. It works better than The Time Traveler's Wife because it's a comedy through-and-through instead of a nightmarish tragedy that Moffat keeps imposing his sitcom style to. This play might have been written by The Master or Missy.

The Unfriend is currently playing at the Chichester Theatre Festival. Rich Johnston will be reviewing the production. The script is currently available in print and ebook.

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Adi TantimedhAbout Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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