DramaReviewSouth West

Love From A Stranger – New Theatre, Cardiff

Author: Agatha Christie

Adaptation: Frank Vosper

Director: Lucy Bailey

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

The Grande Dame of thrillers and murder mysteries would no doubt be amused by the recent upsurge of performances, both on TV and one stage, of her work. Amused – and maybe not always too pleased (think BBC TV’s screening of Ordeal by Innocence which deviated so far from Christie’s original as to be at times almost unrecognisable).

Thankfully, this is not the case with Frank Vosper’s adaptation of Love From A Stranger. Set in 1958, the plot is based on a whirlwind romance between Cecily – middle class living in Bayswater but recently come into money – and a stranger who walks into her life. Already having serious doubts about her forthcoming marriage to her boyhood sweetheart Michael, who is returning from overseas and expected any moment, Cecily ups sticks and goes off with the stranger, one Bruce. Lovell, to a remote cottage in West Sussex. 

If you don’t know this play, taken from Christie’s own adaptation of her short story Philomel Cottage, and one of her less often performed works, then you might be excused for wondering when the murder is going to happen – if at all. Fear not – this is classic Christie, keeping you guessing right until the bitter end. And bitter it certainly is – prepare to be shocked.

As Michael, Cecily’s rejected suitor, Justin Avoth brings a gravitas to the role that grounds the unusually short first half which is only three quarters of an hour of the two and a half hour performance. The opening scenes are a tad lacking in pace in the repartee between the women: Cecily, played by Helen Bradbury, her friend Mavis (Alice Haig) and Cecily’s interfering Aunt Louise., performed with gusto and the comedic touch that the role demands, by Nicola Sanderson.

As Cecily, Bradbury manages well the metamorphosis between the smart young secretary into the head-over-heels and blinded by love young woman, although at times during Act II Bradbury didn’t appear altogether at ease with the sexier scenes (wonder what Christie would have made of Vosper’s interpretation of the text here!) It is left to Sam Frenchum, playing with relish the part of Bruce, to up the ante, and this he does. Frenchum’s is a clever and convincing portrayal of the character.

The cast of this Fiery Angel production do Christie credit, coming into their own in the lengthy second half. Here the main characters are joined by a trio of others – Dr Gribble (neat portrayal by Crispin Redman of the family doctor who actually called at the house in days of yore) and the engaging Molly Logan, as the willing but clumsy Ethel the maid, providing the light relief that is so necessary in a tense psychological thriller such as this, Logan’s Ethel is a gem – hopefully we will see more of this fine young actress, while Gareth Williams makes the most of the cameo role of Hodgson the gardener.

Designer Mike Britton’s innovative sliding set is enabling with access to simultaneous action, but the movement can at times irritate, as does the overloud recorded music. The latter, composed by sound designer and composer Richard Hammarton, adds to the sinister feel of the play but really does not need to be quite so ear-splitting. Great lighting by Oliver Fenwick is a huge asset throughout.

Runs until Saturday 18 April | Image: Contributed

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