Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) at the Kiln review: it's hard not to love this ode to romcoms

Dujonna Gift and Sam Tutty in Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) (Marc Brenner)
Dujonna Gift and Sam Tutty in Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) (Marc Brenner)

Christmas comes early to the Kiln with this charming two-person musical that riffs on New York romcoms.

Dougal (Sam Tutty), a dorkily good-hearted cinema usher from Crawley, spends 36 hours in a Manhattan December with wry, dry, city-savvy barista Robin (Dujonna Gift), because her sister is marrying the wealthy dad he never knew. Robin immediately finds Dougal childish and annoying, largely because he is, but they end up fetching the wedding cake from Brooklyn together. Do they fall in love? Whaddya think?

Fortunately, the knowing schmaltz of Jim Barne and Kit Buchan’s script and score is undercut with larky wit and a determination to not always do the obvious. The film-nerd references embrace When Harry Met Sally but also Ghostbusters, Midnight Cowboy and Taxi Driver. The songs range smoothly from showbiz celebrations of the Big Apple to ballads to elaborately argumentative patter numbers.

It’s a leanly constructed piece, economically directed by Tim Jackson, on a set by Soutra Gilmour of skyscrapers made of neon-edged suitcases, from which beds, bars and subway seats pop out. It’s hard not to love a musical which, in one of Dougal’s early numbers, rhymes “GCSEs” with “coeliac disease”, and which also features bouzouki music at one point.

Tutty retains the open-faced boyishness he showed in his 2019 breakthrough, in the title role of the West End staging of Dear Evan Hansen, but he’s grown as an actor. Gift, who’s been in Hamilton and Caroline or Change, has spectacular cheekbones and a wintry gaze that could, you feel, freeze any man in his tracks at 50 paces.

They both have light, pleasing, mid-range singing voices that can ramp up into full-throated vibrato at moments of high emotion. Their relationship is rigged from the start, but I believed in their chemistry and didn’t see the twist coming.

Standouts among the songs include the exuberant first-act closer, American Express, where the couple cosplay as rich people on Dougal’s dad’s titanium credit card: and the second act opener, The Hangover Duet, which captures the abysmal regret of the morning after.

Gift gets three strikingly soulful ballads in the first half and there’s great lyrical dexterity in On the App, where the two scroll through Robin’s Tinder matches. I know I bang on about this, but it’s still refreshing to see a piece of contemporary theatre that acknowledges the existence of mobile phones.

The denouement is delicately handled and the whole thing really, really made me want to visit New York again. The Christmas shows seem to come earlier each year, but when they are as sweet as this, they’re very welcome.

Kiln Theatre, to January 20; buy tickets here