Do we really know the people we are falling in love with? Fiery Angel and Royal Derngate Northhampton’s nail-biting co-production of Agatha Christie and Frank Vosper’s “Love from a Stranger” will have you thinking more carefully about who you date.
The play, adapted from Christie’s original short story Philomel Cottage, portrays the same overwhelming feelings of claustrophobia and paranoia on-stage as it does in the book. Director Lucy Bailey having flung the story into the 1950’s era, takes inspiration from the film Peeping Tom.
We open with Cecily Harrington (Helen Bradbury) packing up her flat after winning a substantial amount of money and questioning whether her marriage to Micheal Lawrence (Justin Avoth) is really what she wants. She is convinced of her decision when she meets Bruce Lovell (Sam Frenchum), a charming American who sweeps her off her feet from the word go, but as the audience witness him more closely it becomes undeniably clear that something just isn’t quite right. As we watch the happy couple move into an isolated cottage, we witness more strange happenings begin to unfold and begin to worry for Cecily’s safety. As the audience begin to connect the dots they are left internally screaming for Cecily to ‘get out of the house’!
Frenchum’s Bruce is charming but invasively creepy; he has the audience nervously fidgeting throughout. What is most impressive is that the audience never really manages to figure out what is going on in his mind – it’s as if he were channeling Hannibal Lecter. To contrast the tension we have Auntie Lulu (Nicola Sanderson) providing moments of comic relief to ease us from all the nail biting. She plays the part of the prying aunt wonderfully and the audience are always glad to see her as we know there can be no real danger while she’s onstage.
The thrill of the play is masterfully enhanced by the set design and fantastic use of lighting. The slowly adjusting set changes really push the sense of claustrophobia and gives the audience a glorious insight to what the characters are doing when they think they aren’t being watched. The use of lighting is beautifully crafted to show us Lovell listening from a different room or from the top of the stairs as he listens to conversations thought to be private. It’s agonising to witness and has audience members muttering to themselves in an attempt to change the fate of the victim.
The entire production has certainly done justice to Christie’s original work. It’s not difficult to understand why she is one of the world’s best-selling authors of all time. She has us constantly thinking about why the characters do what they do and what makes them tick. You may even think twice about going on a date with your next Tinder match.
Reviewer: Ashleigh More
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