It’s around this time of year the TV schedules become packed with Christmas movies, the kind that all follow the same predictable plot (think baking Christmas cookies and snowfall at the most romantic moment). But just like some of our perennial favourites, Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) may be set in December, but isn’t necessarily a Christmas story.
Adapted from their previous work, The Season, this new musical from Jim Barne and Kit Buchan is premiering at the Kiln Theatre, and while it may have all the hallmarks of those Christmas films, this surprisingly heartfelt and funny musical dispenses with the predictable rom-com set up for something far more interesting.
Unusually for a musical, this is a two hander, but it works particularly well for the story that’s being told. Dougal arrives in New York where he’ll spend just 36 hours. He’s in the city for his father’s wedding; a man whom he’s never met or even spoken to.
Dougal is met at the airport by his father’s younger bride’s sister, Robin. Where Dougal is excitable and bounding with energy, Robin is a little more grounded. Over their short weekend secrets are unveiled and the pair reveal to each other the thing they believe to be missing in their lives.
The opening number, ‘New York’, introduces us immediately to Barne and Buchan’s spectacular score. Like any of us who have been to the Big Apple, Dougal is basing his perception of the city on the movies he’s watched. But this musical is, in part, about expectation versus reality. For Robin, the reality of living in Manhattan is a long way from how it’s portrayed on screen.
This is a score that constantly surprises us, bringing in different styles and tempos that so perfectly encapsulates the city it represents, from moving ballads like ‘About to Go in’ to beat based numbers like ‘The Argument’, Barnes and Buchan have crafted a near perfect score.
Soutra Gilmour’s set design for Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) sees piles of suitcases rotate to create different aspects of the cityscape. It works well in that it provides the small space with both height and depth, giving the cast plenty of room to move about in director Tim Jackson’s energetic production.
Dujonna Gift plays the aptly named Robin in an outstanding performance. Gift connects with the audience at a meaningful level while delivering powerful vocals in both solos and the duets. Most enjoyable is Gift’s deadpan retorts to Dougal’s overly exuberant moments.
The writers have given Robin the most in terms of character development. Dougal on the other hand is in danger of becoming a comic sidekick, goofy and drowning in quirky Britishisms, yet in the hands of Sam Tutty, the character becomes a lovable and charming everyman that the audience are rooting for from the start. Tutty also soars vocally, particularly with the touching and heartfelt numbers such as ‘Dad’ while his upbeat numbers leave the audience grinning in delight.
The cake being carried across New York by these two strangers is in fact a wedding cake, and this musical finds itself working in similar tiers; a rich and sweet base with a comic lightness. The performances are the very definition of the icing on the cake.
Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) is naturally defined by its small cast and the combination of Gift and Tutty couldn’t be any better. If this were a movie, it would be the one that you curl up on the couch with when you want to laugh, cry and see a little sprinkling of snowfall.