Tatty MacLeod, Dan Tiernan, The Unfriend starring Lee Mack - Mark Muldoon's Comedy Diary

The Unfriend. Image shows left to right: Sarah Alexander, Frances Barber, Lee Mack. Credit: Manuel Harlan

Interesting to consider the fate of the old-school studio audience sitcom. Long since fallen out of fashion, it was where writer Steven Moffat arguably first achieved substantial prominence with Coupling, before then going on to really hit the big time with Doctor Who and Sherlock.

Coupling was justifiably popular at the time but it has aged about as well as you'd expect an early 00s sitcom based on relationship and gender politics to have aged. Now Moffat revives that spirit of sitcom-ish farce in The Unfriend, a play also directed by his best bud Mark Gatiss (Doctor Who, Sherlock, The League Of Gentlemen).

It has that deliberately mainstreamy BBC One old-school sitcom feel to it. Nothing wrong with that: everybody deserves comedy catering to their tastes - we must just hope that the broader comedies we get are high quality examples of the form.

For the first half, you feel highly confident that it is. The premise - that a middle class English couple are too polite to kick a potential serial killer out their house - is excellent (Moffat has disclosed that he borrowed the idea from a friend). The cast are also a pleasure, led by Lee Mack (good value), Sarah Alexander (has less to do but does it well), and Frances Barber (a joy). The second half, however, fails to successfully build on the highly promising foundations laid out before the interval. One toilet-based section feels like particularly uninspired writing. Proceedings broadly coast along before concluding satisfactorily. Bit of a shame, but still a decent evening out, especially if you're in the market for this kinda thing.

Tatty Macleod. Credit: Rachel Sherlock

Over in the world of stand-up comedy newcomers, viral star Tatty MacLeod has spent 50% of her life in France and 50% in England. Perfectly placed then, presumably, to comment on the differences between the two nationalities.

At first you occasionally feel as though some of her observations might be lacking in originality somewhat, but later on - after you realise the extent to which the show has centred itself on this topic - you do start to think "well fair enough really, could anybody write 40ish minutes of material on this subject and not occasionally revert to more obvious comic thinking?"

It's all done with likeability and considerable charisma. If there's a sense that, as a joke writer, MacLeod doesn't yet seem worthy of wider acclaim (in particular, a more heartfelt ending seems to dampen - rather than add to - the show's charms) you still leave intrigued about where she might go next, maybe once she's spread her wings to a wider range of topics.

Dan Tiernan

Finally, livewire Dan Tiernan comes with not insignificant accolades already, as a Best Newcomer nominee at last year's Edinburgh Fringe, as well as winning the BBC Best New Comedy Award in 2022 (which is still on iPlayer). Typifying his direct attitude, he holds little back in revealing aspects of his life throughout the show: namely that he's gay, dyspraxic, and that his little sister has been diagnosed with leukaemia. He never once forgets this is a comedy show though, and many of the highlights here are the pleasingly indelicate humour he finds in all these subjects. His notepad joke will live especially long in the memory. Overall, Tiernan keeps the quality impressively high over a focused, tight 50 minutes. He's a unique treat.

Read previous editions of this column (featuring John Robins, Rosie Jones, Trevor Noah, Ania Magliano and the top 50 comedy shows of 2023).

Mark Muldoon is also available on Instagram and Twitter. He's 50% Irish and 50% English, though pretty bad at commenting on the differences between the two nationalities.

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