Tag Archives: Jack Knowles

Two Strangers

Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York)


Kiln Theatre



Two Strangers

“Tim Jackson’s lively production never misses a beat, played out on a revolve that circles Soutra Gilmour’s ingenious set”

Given a limited amount of time, would you rather spend it with someone you’ve never met or with someone you may never meet again?

One of the many questions thrown into the air in the captivating new musical, “Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York)”. Dougal (Sam Tutty) is in New York for a whirlwind thirty-six hours. He has arrived for the wedding of his father who abandoned him before he was born. The excitement at the invitation is matched by his puppyish elation at being in The Big Apple. Meeting him at the airport is Robin (Dujonna Gift), the sister of the bride. Her cynicism is as great as his enthusiasm. Do opposites attract? Well – not at first. We might think we are in familiar Romcom territory, but there is plenty of rug-pulling that makes us think again.

Dougal lives in a movie, reliving the technicolour hopes and dreams that spill from the silver screen. ‘Do you know what we’d do now if we were in a movie?’ is his catchphrase. Robin lives in the real world, vaguely haunted by the ghosts of past, present and future. They clash, but with sparks hot enough to weld them together – yet Jim Barne’s and Kit Buchan’s writing is too complex to ensure the customary happy ending, and I’m not about to tell you either.

The opening number; ‘New York!’ is a crowd-pleasing overture, instantly putting a stamp on the two personalities. Sam Tutty’s Dougal is intensely irritating but insanely vulnerable and gorgeous. Tutty can cast a laugh-out-loud one-liner and wrap it around a tear-jerking anecdote with worldly skill. His brash, ingenuous shell is dangerously fragile. Dujonna Gift, as Robin, is the antithesis of the American Dream, and cannot seem to shake off her current nightmare that has arrived in the form of her prospective nephew-in-law.

“For a musical, there is more than enough script, which gives the two actors plenty to chew on, and reveal their formidable acting skills”

They bond, reluctantly, over Robin’s Tinder App during the sensational, staccato musical number, ‘On the App’, which showcases the clever lyrics that run throughout the show. Like many of the songs it is almost rhapsodic in nature, blending styles like a confectioner would concoct the most delicious flavours. Jim Barne’s score cannot be separated from the book and lyrics (credited to both Kit Buchan, and Barne). They brilliantly mix the old and the new, the traditional and the urban, classic and modern, the sweet and the sour. ‘Under the Mistletoe’ is a gorgeous parody of the seasonal hit that we all pretend to frown upon yet secretly love. It rises above pastiche though, sending up its source with a glowing affection that will ensure the song’s place in everyone’s festive playlist.

There are too many standout numbers. ‘The Argument’, sparse and rhythmic, delivered with precision timing by Gift and Tutty is both timeless and progressive, blurred by the doubt and confusion of too much liquor yet with a sharpness that cuts open a bitter and heartrending reveal. It is the performances of Tutty and Gift that propel the show as much as the score. For a musical, there is more than enough script, which gives the two actors plenty to chew on, and reveal their formidable acting skills. Their range, which can rake up many emotions, matches their vocal versatility. Through them, too, we get a three-dimensional portrayal of the off-stage characters and a glorious insight into the relationships.

Tim Jackson’s lively production never misses a beat, played out on a revolve that circles Soutra Gilmour’s ingenious set of piles of greyed-out suitcases that open and close to reveal the various locations, props, and the surprises and secrets of our protagonists. These characters have many shades, reflected and amplified by Jack Knowles’ moody, sensitive and innovative lighting.

“Two Strangers…” is the perfect Christmas tale. Part dream. Part movie. Part fairy-tale. And, of course, the obligatory snowfall during its finale. The opening number, ‘New York!’, is reprised, shifting from the major to the minor. Tender, plaintive and haunting now, but with a rising crescendo that reassures us all. We have cried. But we have laughed too. Hope springs eternal.


Reviewed on 16th November 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Marc Brenner




More recent reviews from Jonathan:

Treason The Musical | ★★★ | Alexandra Palace | November 2023
Backstairs Billy | ★★★★ | Duke of York’s Theatre | November 2023
Porno | ★★★ | Arts Theatre | November 2023
The Time Traveller’s Wife | ★★★ | Apollo Theatre | November 2023
Lizzie | ★★★ | Southwark Playhouse Elephant | November 2023
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane | ★★★★★ | Noël Coward Theatre | October 2023
An Evening Of Burlesque | ★★★★ | Adelphi Theatre | October 2023
Othello | ★★★★ | Riverside Studios | October 2023
Flowers For Mrs Harris | ★★★★ | Riverside Studios | October 2023
Shooting Hedda Gabler | ★★★★ | Rose Theatre Kingston | October 2023
Trompe L’Oeil | ★★★ | The Other Palace | September 2023
Close Up – The Twiggy Musical | ★★★ | Menier Chocolate Factory | September 2023

Two Strangers

Two Strangers

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Sons of the Prophet

Sons of the Prophet


Hampstead Theatre

SONS OF THE PROPHET at the Hampstead Theatre


Sons of the Prophet

“The script feels very polished, and so packed with jokes and one-liners it can sometimes feel like the characters are being held at arm’s length”


The play opens from the point of view of a car crashing into a stag, quite a mean feat given that we’re watching Sons of the Prophet on Hampstead Theatre’s main stage. It gives us some inkling of the deft way director Bijan Sheibani will take this 11-year-old play by Stephen Karam and bring each line to life, directing but not smothering the actors, to deliver a pitch-perfect production.

Sons of the Prophet centres around the story of gay Lebanese-America Maronite Christian Joseph Douaihy (Irfan Shamji) who is trying to support his family in the wake of his father’s death. We meet his brother Charles (Eric Sirakian) and his uncle Bill (Raad Rawi) as Joseph lies in the hospital waiting for news from the doctor.

Karam writes the family’s dynamics perfectly. The bedside bickering is funny – this is a dark comedy after all – but it’s funny in an exhausting, claustrophobic way. Each family member repeatedly tells each other to stop talking, yet none of them do, and when Joseph puts his arm across his face the audience can feel the waves of stress emanating from him (all compounded by navigating the grim-sounding US healthcare system). Concurrently, Joseph must manage his Uncle Bill’s devout Marronite faith and optimism – “I’m saying be grateful, at least you have your health” – “I don’t have my health, we’re in a doctor’s office because my knees are radiating hot pain!”

Supporting characters propel the story forward as it hurtles towards an end with no resolutions, because that’s what happens to families like Douaihy’s in rural Pennsylvania. It transpires his dad’s car accident was caused by a star of Cedar Crest High School’s football team putting a fake stag in the middle of the road to see who would swerve to avoid it – we meet Vin (Raphael Akuwudike) as he attempts to apologise to the family with a terrible essay. The supporting cast, played by Holly Atkins and Sue Wallace (Physicians Assistant, Ticket Agent etc) are sublime, and both deserve a spin-off show for their extraordinarily well-brought-to-life characters. I would like to watch each of them on stage, for longer.

At points the stage feels like a 21st century Fawlty Towers, as Joseph tries to manage a revolving door of disastrous encounters and people (his horrific boss Gloria, played by Juliet Cowan, who makes everything about her), and news reporter/brief love interest Timothy (Jack Holden) who is desperate to break into the TV bigtime by exploiting the Douaihy family tragedy.

The script feels very polished, and so packed with jokes and one-liners it can sometimes feel like the characters are being held at arm’s length. The actors, with the exception of a few wavering American accents, fly with the lines. Any bumps lie entirely with the script, which feels extremely American, and an interesting choice for Hampstead Theatre in London 2022 (prompting the usual questions, why here, why now?) Perhaps it’s because it’s an omen of what life could become in Britain in the next 10 years under the wrong government hell-bent on privatising the NHS: a stark warning of the extra layers of stress and financial worry that will burden almost every family.

The set design (Samal Blak) is stark and unfussy, with a beautiful use of levels, which helps to tie in all the disparate family elements. Aline David’s movement direction introduces a sense of calmness at times during the show when it’s most necessary.

The play deals with the true sense of what it means to be human, as it revolves around the teachings of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet (On Pain, On Passion, On Work, etc). Explicit instructions in the playtext recommend that each character at heart is human – “Gloria may say ridiculous things, but her mannerisms aren’t ridiculous.” Karam calls for the play to be staged in ‘explicitly human spaces’.

The calmness of the final scene, as Joseph meets his kindergarten teacher while he does physiotherapy, is most poignant, and provides respite from his life’s chaos. He confides in her that the last time he was happy was when he was aged four, and although the line is delivered as a joke, there’s a pause from the audience before we laugh, as we all reflect en-masse that life is hard, and at times it can feel like a rolling wheel of disasters.

The play is tight, well-written, superbly acted, and an easy 105 minutes (no interval!) watch. It lifts rather than shatters, and does it with serious humour and a whack of seriously good acting.



Reviewed on 12th December 2022

by Eleanor Ross

Photography by Marc Brenner



Previously reviewed at this venue:


The Two Character Play | ★★★★ | July 2021
Big Big Sky | ★★★★ | August 2021
Night Mother | ★★★★ | October 2021
The Forest | ★★★ | February 2022
The Fever Syndrome | ★★★ | April 2022
The Breach | ★★★ | May 2022
The Fellowship | ★★★ | June 2022
Mary | ★★★★ | October 2022
Blackout Songs | ★★★★ | November 2022


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