The name might not be particularly tinselly, but this winsome, musical two-hander is an extremely charming tribute to – but also a subversion of – the Christmas romcom, both the Richard Curtis variety and the trashy Netflix it’s-snowing-in-New-York! breed.
Dougal (Sam Tutty) is a gawky, blissfully optimistic 25-year-old Brit who has turned up at JFK airport to commence a whirlwind 36-hour trip to New York, built around the wedding of his father… who he had never actually met, but has invited him regardless.
Robin (Dujonna Gift) is a stressed out 27-year-old local and sister to the (very young) bride-to-be. She’s been charged with meeting Dougal at the airport. Being a cynical New Yorker, she is instantly horrified by his excitement at being there, desire to see the sights, and belief that the Golden Gate Bridge is in NYC.
Their froideur doesn’t last: Dougal is like a human pillow, immune to any sarcasm or cynicism or attempt by Robin to get rid of him: he blithely invites himself along on her trip to Brooklyn to pick up her sister’s wedding cake.
They grow closer, but it’s not quite the story you’re expecting. Co-written by Jim Barne and Kit Buchan, the book does a great job of gleefully embracing festive romcom tropes while deftly resisting sentimentality. Neither does it have any problem turning on the old endorphins, but it’s the gradual dawning that both Dougall and Robin’s lives are much more complicated than convention dictates that powers the show. We increasingly feel for them not because we’re expecting a Hallmark ending, but because it’s obvious one isn’t possible.
With just a small band and an aversion to overemoting, Barne and Buchan’s tunes fit nimbly into Tim Jackson’s fast-paced production but show-stoppers they’re not. What works best are the more patter-style, semi-spoken word numbers, which best channel the spark and humour of the book – the one in which Dougall assesses Robin’s Tinder profile and prospects is an absolute hoot.
There’s a lovely revolving set from Soutra Gilmour, based around piles of battered silver suitcases. They contain various smart tricks and surprises, but also the gimmicks aren’t laid on too thick.
Mostly, though, it’s powered by two delightful leads. Tutty made his name with his Olivier-winning starring role in ‘Dear Evan Hansen’. This is only his second major stage part, but lightning has very much struck twice. True, Dougal is an awkward young person, but there the similarities with Evan end - Tutty shows his range with a funny and somewhat tragic performance as a loveable nerd who sweet-natured zest for life blinds him to the sadness of his own circumstance. Gift is less well-known, and saddled with the straighter role, but she’s also excellent. Yes, Robin is a badass with a heart of gold, but Gift is superb at showing how she has withdrawn into her shell, nursing a complex sense of disappointment at herself.
The first half is about 15 minutes too long, and I think Dougal could be a grating character in the hands of a less winning actor than Tutty. But these are minor quibbles in the face of this perfectly balanced little show - snowflake light but with a surprising sting. A properly charming turning on of the lights for the 2023 London Christmas theatre season.