Mark Gatiss: Sherlock star makes his West End directorial debut

Mark Gatiss  (Getty Images)
Mark Gatiss (Getty Images)

Sherlock star Mark Gatiss says he thinks the emotionally “constipated” English will see themselves reflected in his new play.

The actor and writer is making his debut as a West End director with Unfriend, written by his Sherlock co-creator Steven Moffat, at the Criterion Theatre.

He said the story of a timid English couple too polite to ask an unwanted American visitor, with Frances Barber in the role as the brash Elsa, to leave their home would strike a chord with the audience.

He said: “A forthright American would just put an end to this situation.

“But Elsa turns up and they are essentially too polite to say no and I think we all know that’s a very real situation where you’re sitting there bitching about the meal and the waiter comes past and asks how is everything and you say, ‘It’s fine’.

“We just do it as naturally as breathing so it’s just an extrapolation of that. It’s a very constipated emotion.

“I don’t think we’ve changed a bit to be honest, I think circumstances have changed and we all like to feel we are a lot more emotionally free or sometimes emotionally incontinent but the English remain as constipated as ever.”

Steven Moffat (Frazer Harrison/Getty)
Steven Moffat (Frazer Harrison/Getty)

Moffat started writing the play while the two men were working on an adaptation of Dracula and Gatiss, a well-known horror fan, admits some of the influence of Bram Stoker’s dark tale may have made its way into Unfriend.

He said: “I suppose the parallels are there if you want to read them and maybe it had some sort of influence. Those kind of emotional vampires or literal vampires are always with us.”

The play, which was a sell-out success at Chichester, will open on January 19 and run until April 16 and has kept its original car with Reece Shearsmith and Amanda Abbington playing the repressed pair of Brits.

Shearsmith, who starred alongside Gatiss in The League of Gentleman, said he identified with his character Peter who is unable to tell Elsa she is an unwelcome guest.

He said: “I’m crippled by being polite and never saying anything like boo to a goose so the part of Peter for me is just me and the tangle that he gets himself into and the situations are familiar.”