Love From a Stranger

Agatha Christie and Frank Vosper
Fiery Angel and Royal and Derngate Northampton
Cheltenham Everyman Theatre

This play, based on a 1934 short story by Agatha Christie Philomel Cottage, is about a woman who marries a man she hardly knows.

The play, originally adapted in 1936 for the West End stage by Frank Vosper, has been moved to the 1950s in this this Fiery Angel and Royal and Derngate Northampton touring co-production skilfully directed by Lucy Bailey. Whilst the set is full of furniture and props, Mike Britton has created an atmosphere of space with his cleverly designed sideways moving set with gauze walls, assisted by some wonderful lighting design ideas by Oliver Fenwick and very different stirring sound compositions by Richard Hammarton. Michael Powell’s film Peeping Tom is acknowledged as an influence on Bailey’s direction and Britton’s design.

We see two upper drawer flat-mates, having come second in a sweepstake to the tune of £25,000 apiece, renting out their London Bayswater flat and chucking their respective dull, boring jobs. Mavis Wilson, wonderfully played by Alice Haig, is to go off travelling and the other, Cecily Harrington (Helen Bradbury), breaking off her 5-year-long engagement and imminent marriage to the dependable Michael Lawrence (Justin Avoth) for whom she only has fond feelings and hankering to go off on travelling adventures too.

Who is this rather odd American prospective renter? Odd as we see him breathing in the scent of Cecily’s nightwear and taking sneaky photographs, not the usual sort of behaviour when looking around a property for rent, while he beguiles her with tales of the places he has seen and lived in. Within hours they are engaged, within weeks married and living in a remote cottage in the Sussex countryside three miles from the nearest village.

Sam Frenchum as Bruce Lovell masterfully slips from his American accent into working class South London as he reveals his true self, not only after Cecily’s money but her death. Helen Bradbury gives a good performance as Cecily Harrington, though at times seems a little awkward, but adeptly handles the change from naïve, concerned wife to killer.

The play, while a psychological thriller, is not without its snippets of humour. Molly Logan as house servant Ethel, niece of Hodgson the gardener (Gareth Williams), had the audience chuckling at some of her antics and quips, as did Nicola Sanderson with powerful projection and superb diction as Aunt “Lulu” Harrington, overwhelming, snobbish and focused as to what is right, yet so easily distracted by the thought of afternoon tea at Fortnum and Masons and not un-reminiscent of a certain Mrs Bucket.

The gratuitous moments of groping and sex are unnecessary additions and do nothing to enhance the production and a little puzzling as to how Dr Gribble (Crispin Redman), Michael and Mavis all somehow arrived at the same time to rescue Cecily from the village pub, not knowing one another.

Overall a very enjoyable evening.

Reviewer: Judith Wordsworth