Love From A Stranger at the New Alexandra Theatre

    3 Love from a Stranger - Helen Bradbury and Sam Frenchum -701 photo by Sheila Burnett

    A women dissatisfied with her life, meets a stranger and begins a whirlwind romance.  But how much can you really know about someone you’ve just met?  This is a question posed by Love From A Stranger, a play based on a short story by the Queen of Mystery, Agatha Christie.

    After winning a substantial amount of money and waiting on the return of her fiancé, Cecily Harrington’s (Helen Bradbury) life is in flux, when a charming stranger who comes to rent her flat instead sweeps her off her feet.  Despite protestations from her best friend and meddling aunt, Cecily marries the man, Bruce Lovell (Sam Frenchum), and they relocate to a secluded cottage.  But the more Cecily gets to know Bruce, the more she realises she may not know him all the well at all. And with her loved ones so far away, and no phone in the house, who can she call on to sooth her fears?

    Agatha Christie’s work has a reputation for killing off characters, but Love From a Stranger makes the story more about mystery than murder.  The audience know it’s coming, but when – and who?  This is an eerie play which makes the audience work for the who-done-it and almost pulls the rug from underneath them.  Like modern procedural dramas, the play is peppered with nuggets of what might be to come, giving clues piece by piece as to what might be about to happen.  The first time the audience meets Bruce he is spotted just off to the side of the stage taking photos – there’s a slight glimpse of a peeping tom, something which is further hinted at when the couple relocate to the cottage.  But the notes in his mysterious book full of codes (or are they), his insistence of solitude for the newlyweds and sitting at the top of the stairs spying on Cecily.

    1 Love from a Stranger - Helen Bradbury and Sam Frenchum -266 photo by Sheila Burnett

    Whilst Sam Frenchum’s Bruce is the mysterious and temperamental villain, pulling his wife away from everyone she knows and reacting quickly and angrily, it’s Cecily who the audience is rooting for.  She could easily be portrayed as a character too docile and naïve, director Lucy Bailey and actress Helen Bradbury portray her as a more complex woman who simply wants more out of life.

    Love From A Stranger manages to build suspense and mystery impressively, something which can’t be easy in a large theatre.  Whilst there are two main sets, the first being Cecil and Mavis’ (Alice Haig) flat, the second act’s being the secluded cottage, pieces of the set shift to give a different perspective and allow the story to move on, but the displacement builds a sense of unease.  The use of light and sound between scene changes continues to build the tension further, making the audience jump and wonder what is coming next.

    Director Lucy Bailey has relocated the action to the 1950s, which makes for some lovely period costumes, and balances the turmoil of an increasing sense of freedom for women, whilst still being shackled by duty.  Though the clipped accented voices feel a bit old fashioned, even for the time period, the place manages to remain incredibly relevant; in an age of internet dating, I wonder what would become of Cecily and Bruce?

    Love From A Stranger is a carefully paced play which slowly builds the tension, allowing it to creep into the audience’s bones, building a crescendo, ready for the explosive ending.

    Love from a Stranger is at New Alexandra Theatre on Suffolk Street until Saturday 19th May.  To purchase tickets, visit:

    This was a press event. Photographs were taken by Shelia Burnett.


    April update

    April update

    April has been a busy month, and looking back on it, it’s no wonder I’m feeling tired.  Work saw me go on day trips to Leicester and Coventry, as well as a three day trip to Lancaster (which I wrote about here) and I also spent the weekend visiting friends in Colchester. I really enjoy the act of travelling so I didn’t mind all the train journeys, but I need to spend some quality time at home spring cleaning before a trip to Australia next month to see my sister.

    What I’ve been watching…

    I’ve managed to keep up a good run of going to the theatre again this month, with trips to see Fat Friends The Musical at the Alex, Police Cops in Outer Space at the Old Joint Stock and This House at The Rep.  I also managed a couple of book talks, including one to see Laura Stevens talk about her book The Exact Opposite of Okay, and another to see Afua Hirsch talk about her book BRIT(ish) at the very excellent Impact Hub.

    Given how much I’ve been away from home, I was quite impressed with my eleven trips to the cinema this month. I was contemplating doubling my cinema challenge for the year, but the Avengers Infinity War seems to be taking up all the screens at my usual cinema and so planning a cinema day is increasingly more difficult.

    • Ready Player One was alright, felt like I’d seen it before. Nice to see Birmingham on the big screen, less so because it’s portraying a dystopian craphole
    • Isle of Dogs I felt a bit mixed about; it felt too long and there are elements of it that are problematic
    • Midnight Sun ended a triple bill at the cinema. Felt a bit fluffy, which is why I saw it, suspect the original might’ve been a bit meatier
    • A Quiet Place was unexpectedly brilliant, found myself holding my breath at the end, and agreeing with the nervous laughs from other audience members at the end
    • Ghost Stories is something I swear I’ve seen on stage and worked better then. It was classy and clever but I wanted a bit more from it
    • Love Simon was a nice light-hearted teen romcom, with a gay main character – and love interest. This shouldn’t be refreshing in 2018, but it was.
    • Funny Cow was an interesting look at the challenges facing a female comic in the 1970s, gritty social realism.
    • Beast is about a sheltered young woman and an outsider who begin a turbulent relationship amidst a murder in the area. It’s typically British, with sound stand out acting and suitably atmospheric
    • Avengers Infinity War I’m still unsure about, I’m going back for a second viewing
    • Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is the perfect Sunday viewing whilst the weather outside is crap.
    • Journeyman is definitely a go see movie. The story of a boxer recovering from brain damage, which is interesting and superbly acted

    I’ve been double dosing Netflix and Amazon Prime and generally watching lots of things that are light and easy to watch.  One film did stand out, the sublimely ridiculous Deathgasm; a B movie, horror comedy from New Zealand. Following in the footsteps of other Kiwi cult classics, it’s a gorefest about teen metalheads who accidentally summon a demon. As you do.


    What I’ve been reading…

    Another month of ‘not a lot’, aside from some trashy 97p stuff on my kindle that doesn’t need mentioning.  I did power through The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Stevens, ahead of the book talk and was a book I enjoyed far more than I thought I would. I’ve got half a review I need to do something with.

    I did borrow The Four Pillar Plan by Dr Rangan Chatterjee from the library, which I got about half way through before I had to give it back, but was an interesting read about looking after yourself, with easy to digest ideas backed up with links to scientific studies.  I also borrowed Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, after reading part of an essay for the shine theory post.

    Some interesting links I’ve been reading…

    Depression Steals Your Soul and Then it Takes Your Friends
    It’s so easy to cut off a friend who is persistently difficult, self-absorbed, nasty, and decidedly “other.” Especially if they cut themselves off first.

    How to Say ‘No’ to Others and ‘Yes’ to Yourself
    Saying “no” can be scary. Some of us avoid saying “no” by either saying “yes” or avoiding answering the request altogether (oops). But here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with saying “no” to things other people ask you to do (unless, in most cases, it’s your boss), whether it’s a night out with a friend, a “can-I-pick-your-brain” request from an acquaintance, or something else.

    When I moved to London aged 18, I felt alone. Wasting hours on public transport made it feel like home 
    I credit London transport for curing my homesickness, when I felt like I had absolutely no idea where I was. It helped me stick my head above the water, and see things a little more clearly.


    Theory, Travel

    You can’t go home again


    I boarded a train taking me back to a place I called home for three years.  I’d visited Lancaster a handful of times in the last twelve years, and each time it felt different – I felt different.

    The first time I went back was a couple of months after packing up my life there.  Boarding the bus I’d caught so many times before, staying at a friend’s house I’d spent many an evening in, laughing and drinking tea…I felt like a ghost, shadowing through the place that so many memories.

    Going back again twelve years later felt just as strange.

    The skeleton of the city remains much the same; perhaps because of its history, perhaps because of its size or maybe I’ve just been blinded by my own home-city so keen to regenerate it never looks the same for long.  But there’s a comfort in the familiarity, of being able to find your way round, knowing the shortcuts and street layout.  And so many things were the same; same bus stop where we’d have late night heart-to-hearts, the pubs where we danced our hearts out, the same winding passages hiding shortcuts.

    There are some things that have changed; the hotel I stayed in was on the grounds of the old cinema that betrayed the place for being a city, showing blockbusters in a room too small, seats too hard, and with an interval that seems to only exist in places that claim history.  The last place in the city I called home, was also the first, on campus accommodation, due to be knocked down the first year I was there, survived until the third and was finally levelled after we left.

    There’s something oddly comforting in the destruction of somewhere I held so dear.  Like I loved it last, so it belong to me and my friends, the last people who brought life to those walls and those were the freshest memories those walls took to their grave.  That sense of loss, of jealously, no matter how good life might be now, of wondering why it no longer wanted me was erased, much like the buildings themselves.  New halls built in their place, glossier, more appropriate for modern life, but missing the impossibly small kitchen where we would pile in of a night to eat pancakes and catch up over a cup of tea.

    There’s a Galician word “saudade” which means a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. I always thought that’s how I would feel going back, but whilst so much of what I liked about the place has remained, the things I loved were the people and they’re not there anymore, they’re scattered across the country.  But I loved being able to guide someone else through the city and the campus on the whistle-stop tour between work engagements which took up most of the day.

    And for most of those three days I’d been humming the line of a song, Mistakes We Knew We Were Making by Straylight Run, which is the title of the piece.  “We’ll get over it, sad, strong, safe, and sober. We’ll move forward, and know where we went wrong.  But you can’t go home again…”

    This Lancaster will never be my Lancaster again, but I hope it can be someone else’s. It deserves to be.


    Finding things in Birmingham

    life as an adventure

    I have never understood the appeal of going home every night to eat dinner, sit in front of the telly and fall asleep, repeating over and over, living for the weekend.  For me, I think every day can be an adventure, even if it’s just people watching in a coffee shop.  Birmingham is notoriously quite bad about shouting about all the great things going on in the city.  So I thought I’d try and write down some ideas, as much to remind myself, but also hopefully as help for others.  I should probably place a caveat here; these are very much the things that interest me, and there are so many other things out there, that I haven’t covered because I wouldn’t know the first place to look.

    Read more


    Social media and passive friendship


    Social media can be painful because we feel like we’re always ‘on’ and always seeing the best of other people’s lives and comparing it to the mundanity of our own. But what if we stopped seeing social media like that, took an active part in it and used it to better connect with our friends?

    I was talking to my friend C about her decision to deactivate her social media accounts, to give herself some breathing room.  C and I have newly defined our relationship as friends; previously just Facebook friends, Instagram followers and occasional meeter-uppers at events.  But when she said she was leaving social media I dropped her a message to say I’d miss her and I’d like to keep in contact.  I realised that whilst I ‘liked’ a lot of her photos, occasionally comments and watched her Instagram stories, I had never really expressed how much I enjoyed seeing them, until it was almost too late – and I wasn’t the only one.

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    Fat Friends the Musical at New Alexandra Theatre

    Fat Friends

    Fat Friends the Musical is a feel-good play with plenty of belly laughs. (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

    Reuniting the characters from Kay Mellor’s hit TV show, Fat Friends follows the struggles of a group of overweight friends who attend a slimming club based in Headingley, a suburb of Leeds.  Kelly has a larger-than-life personality but is struggling to fit into her dream wedding dress, lovelorn group leader Lauren is trying to find the man of her dreams, whilst Kelly’s father Fergus is just trying to keep the family chip shop open.

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    Quarterly update

    Quarterly Update 14

    I’m not really one for New Year’s Resolutions, there’s something a bit joyless about them – they always seem to be about berating yourself for not being good enough.  And I’m quite versed at doing that without having resolution hanging round like millstone round my neck.  But I do like the timeliness of setting myself a challenge that is smart – sensible, measurable, attainable, resourced and time-limited.

    This year I wanted to revive some of the challenges I’ve done before, like the book and film challenges, but add in another one for the theatre.  A few years ago I went to the theatre quite a bit, and I really enjoy it, but with everything going on it’s really easy to forget this.

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