Writers: Agatha Christie and Frank Vosper
Director: Lucy Bailey
Reviewer: Maggie Constable
Prepare to be on the edge of your seat at Milton Keynes Theatre this week with Lucy Bailey’s brand new production of Agatha Christie’s Love From A Stranger. Christie originally wrote this in 1924 as a short story, Philomel Cottage, but then re-wrote it for the stage some years later. It was adapted in 1936 by Frank Vosper and played to great acclaim in London, with Vosper starring as the lead male. This is not one of her well-known pieces but it has all the best Christie trademarks from that most prolific of crime writers.
The action is set in the late 1950s. Cecily Harrington has been living an ordinary and very ‘proper’ life in a flat she shares with Mavis in London when she wins a substantial amount of money. Her fiancé of some years, Michael, is due back from a three-year stint in the Sudan and they are set to marry. Cecily, however, is now having second thoughts and is looking for fun and adventure when who should appear to view her flat but the devilishly handsome and very exciting American, Bruce Lovell. All is about to change dramatically for young Cecily as she is swept off her feet by Mr Lovell and so rapidly finds herself in a remote cottage in Sussex with her recently-acquired husband, a man she hardly knows, her former life and self-forgotten. Will she regret her recklessness? The writing is on the wall…
Cecily Harrington is brought to us by Helen Bradbury with total credibility and subtle acting. She gets the change from bored and sensible secretary to young woman wildly in love just right. The rapport with Bruce Lovell, portrayed by Sam Frenchum, has very believable chemistry. Frenchum is convincing as both très charmant colonial and as the manic, controlling, sinister husband. A fascinating if creepy transformation.
The supporting cast is all good but Nicola Sanderson as the overbearing and interfering Aunt Louise and Molly Hogan as Ethel the maid are spot on at giving us the much-needed comedy to contrast with the palpable tension of this dark thriller. The former delivers acerbic lines with great comic timing while the latter displays superb physical humour.
Set designer, Mike Britton, adds to the suspense with his shifting and sliding set which seems to work in sync with Bruce Lovell’s movements, allowing us glimpses of the character’s alter ego. Hence we can catch Lovell listening behind doors, standing silently at the top of the stairs watching menacingly or stealing snapshots. Oliver Fenwick’s lighting enhances the threatening atmosphere with its clever effects and dramatic changes of colour.
We are taken on a journey of twists and turns which starts very slowly but builds to a startling climax. All the way along the audience can see the signs but then things and people are never quite what they appear to be. A thoroughly involving piece of theatre.
Runs Until 7 July 2018 and on tour | Image: Sheila Burnett