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.
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: atgtickets.com/shows/agatha-christies-love-from-a-stranger/new-alexandra-theatre-birmingham/
This was a press event. Photographs were taken by Shelia Burnett.