Writer: Agatha Christie
Director: Lucy Bailey
Reviewer: Steve Turner
With the continued success of her production of Witness for the Prosecution still wowing audiences in London, Director Lucy Bailey has turned her attention to a lesser-known Agatha Christie and has produced another brilliant adaptation.
Moving the story on some 20 years or so since its first stage production, Bailey takes the work into the late 50s where, after winning a share of a sweepstake, Cecily Harrington has decided that she wants to go out into the world and seek excitement and adventure. All this comes as a surprise to her flatmate Mavis, and will doubtless be more of a surprise to Michael, her fiancé of some five years, arriving home after 3 years working in Sudan. All of a sudden her life is changed by a mysterious, charming adventurer Bruce Lovell who comes to view her flat with a plan to rent it but instead ends up sweeping Cecily off her feet. Cue a whirlwind romance, wedding and escape to a remote cottage in the Sussex countryside – what could possibly go wrong?
Although the narrative takes a familiar route from the humour evident in the early interplay between Cecily, her flatmate and the rather fearsome Aunt Louise, Bailey’s direction keeps the tension bubbling away, helped in no small part by Mike Britton’s cleverly shifting set and Oliver Fenwick’s carefully judged lighting. Bailey cites the 1960 movie Peeping Tom as an inspiration for her approach to this play, evident in the way that Lovell is portrayed listening in the shadows be it in the hallway of the flat in Bayswater or on the stairs of the cottage.
Helen Bradbury plays Cecily as intelligent, thoughtful yet also giddy with excitement when moving into the cottage. As she slowly begins to realise that Lovell may not be all he seems we see her making excuses for his behaviour, perhaps in the hope that he isn’t that bad, or perhaps because she feels this is her only chance to escape a world of tedium so is determined to make it work. The audience, of course, is way ahead of her and some of the comments she makes about the isolation of the cottage elicit some knowing murmurs and a sense of foreboding.
As Bruce Lovell, Sam Frenchum is everything that Cecily needs, determined, resourceful, impetuous, she can’t believe her luck and neither can he. Frenchum manages the change from charmer to manipulator in style, his moments of rage and then contrition being particularly well handled.
Admirable support comes from Justin Avoth as Cecily’s well-meaning but ultimately just slightly too ordinary ex fiancé Michael, and Alice Haig as Mavis, still somewhat taken aback by her friend’s sudden change but ultimately loyal and supportive.
As well as the cast do it is really Bailey’s assured direction that makes this story hold together for a modern audience, the basic premise of the plot – woman gets punished for rejecting safe life and looking for excitement is nothing new after all. The skill here is keeping us waiting for the moment when Cecily uncovers something or when Lovell reveals his dark side, we all know it’s coming but when it does….well you’ll just have to see for yourself.
Runs until 31st March 2018 | Image: