Those expecting the type of cosy, murder-with-a-cup-of-tea mystery so beloved of Christie fans are likely to be surprised by Love From A Stranger – though probably not disappointed. This dark, sinister play, redolent of sex and barely controlled violence, is as about as far from picturesque St Mary Mead as you can get; however, the cut glass diction, wittily dry social observation and Machiavellian twists make it clear that nobody but the lady herself could have been behind it.
Originally adapted from her short story Philomel Cottage, it was adapted into its present incarnation in 1938 by actor and playwright Frank Vosper, largely as a vehicle for himself. Director Lucy Bailey has shifted the production smoothly into the 1950s, giving it a somewhat Hitchcock feel.
Bored secretary Cecily (Helen Bradbury) is resignedly awaiting the return of her fiancé Michael (Justin Avoth) from the Sudan and looking forward with little enthusiasm to a future of stifling conjugal respectability when suddenly her conventional life is turned upon its head. Firstly, she wins £25000 on the sweepstake, which exacerbates her itch for travel as well as giving her the possibility of indulging it, if she is brave enough. As she dithers on the brink a handsome, silver-tongued stranger sweeps into her life, bringing with him the scent of exotic climes and the promise of adventure. It appears to be a very fortunate coincidence – although not for poor, summarily-jilted Michael – but is Bruce Lovell all that he seems?
What follows is a claustrophobic, psychological thriller with more than a hint of Gaslight about it. The tension builds maddeningly slowly, emphasised by designer Mike Britton’s subtly shifting set which offers us slightly different perspectives on the same scene and Oliver Fenwick’s gloomily atmospheric lighting. Moments of comic relief are provided by Nicola Sanderson as Cecily’s garrulous, interfering, ever-so- English Aunt Lulu, Gareth Williams as the workshy gardener and Molly Logan as the forthright maid. It is, however, on the shoulders of the two principal characters that the show rests. Bradbury is a fascinating, multi-faceted Cecily, and her fizzing energy gives a much-needed boost to the audience whenever the slow pace of the show threatens to slide into torpor. It would have been nice to feel a little more menace from Sam Frenchum, as Bruce, but he manages to imbue the role with a lovely, slippery ambiguity so that you never quite feel as though you have got a grip of him. Both actors have mastered the subtle shifts in their characters as the power pendulum swings back and forth, posing the question – who is manipulating whom?
Don’t expect a neat, satisfying resolution – that’s not what this play is about. The ending, however, does provide ample food for thought, leading you to question not only the story and the characters but also your own perception and judgement.
Review by Genni Trickett
Adapted by Frank Vosper from Christie’s short story Philomel Cottage, this unsettling thriller with nail-biting suspense and a shocking twist follows Cecily Harrington as she embarks on a whirlwind romance with a new-found lover. She recklessly abandons her old life to settle in the remote and eerily blissful surroundings of a country cottage. While her new life paints a perfect picture, she finds herself asking if this seemingly charming and handsome stranger is all that he seems…
This brand new production is directed by Lucy Bailey (Gaslight, Dial M for Murder), with set and costume design by Mike Britton, lighting by Oliver Fenwick, sound by Richard Hammarton and casting by Siobhan Bracke CDG.
Full casting includes Justin Avoth (My Brilliant Friend, Moliere) as Nigel Lawrence, Helen Bradbury (Our Country’s Good, Sherlock) as Cecily Harrington, Sam Frenchum (Loot, As You Like It) as Bruce Lovell, Alice Haig (Pride & Prejudice, ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore) as Mavis Wilson, Molly Logan (The Secret Seven, Twelfth Night) as Ethel, Crispin Redman (The Park, Hamlet) as Dr Gribble, Nicola Sanderson (Henry V, Law and Order UK) as Louise Garrard and Gareth Williams (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, My Fair Lady) as Hodgson.
Love From A Stranger is produced by Fiery Angel in association with Royal & Derngate, Northampton.
Forthcoming Tour Dates
Tuesday 1 May 2018 – Saturday 5 May 2018
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