Love From A Stranger
by Agatha Christie & Frank Vosper
Directed by Garth Jones
Altrincham Little Theatre
I would think that most people regard Agatha Christie as one of the greatest thriller writers ever. Her books, especially those of the exploits of Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple are some of her best works. They have been adapted many times for television and film, which have entertained numerous generations in many countries since being first published. However, unless you are a true fan, many of us would not realise the enormity of her other works and back catalogue, such as this play, which started out in 1934 as a short story, Philomel Cottage.
Two years later Christie wrote a stage version, and in 1936 the actor-playwright Frank Vosper rewrote it as Love from a Stranger.
The play opens with Cecily Harrington (Sarah Reilly) packing up her shared flat, aided by her snooty aunt Louise (Cherrill Wyche), after winning £25,000 on a sweepstake which she shares with her flat-mate, Mavis (Emma Cartledge). It gives her the opportunity to reflect on how tedious, ordinary and mundane her life has become. She works in an office and is due to marry her fiancé, Nigel (Robert Smith), who is arriving from Sudan. Nigel is the sort of man who is decent and dependable but that is not enough for Cecily and when the mysterious, Bruce Lovell (Harry Chambers- Morris) comes to look at the flat with a view to purchasing it, she is immediately attracted to him. Cecily is swept off her feet by this stranger with an American accent, and tales of adventure from all over the world. Within hours they are engaged and are next glimpsed in apparent marital bliss in a remote cottage in the country.
As with most Christie writings there are many red herrings which keep us all guessing how the play will end. Initially we are led to believe that she will suffer from the old saying of, “marry in haste and repent at leisure” as Cecily is now effectively isolated in a remote cottage, away from friends and family and that her husband’s strange and erratic behaviour puts her in danger. The build-up of tension throughout the play was rewarded with the “twist” at the end of which I shall not reveal.
It was great to see some new faces joining the society for this play, Harry, Emma and in the main role, Sarah. What a lot of dialogue to learn and an array of emotions to portray, from a confident and independent woman to an almost scared married woman who is not quite sure of herself. All this was achieved by Sarah.
I must commend Harry on the lengths he went to in achieving the look for his character by peroxiding/dying his own hair blond to fit the description of the character: not many people would do that. An air of the sinister purveyed from him right from the start. I would have liked the character to be a bit more confident and assertive in the beginning but I was impressed that here was a man not afraid to be tactile on stage. The ripping out of a picture in the newspaper and pointed look to the audience at the end of the first act established his bad boy credentials with us all.
Dotty, snooty Aunt Lou was a particular delight to watch. Cherrill set the scene of why everything was being packed up from the very opening. Throughout her scenes there was good paced dialogue, especially with Emma. Her delivery and accompanying facial expressions brought out the humour of the piece and had many of us chuckling. I found myself wondering if Agatha Christie wrote this character as a persona of herself?
I enjoyed the interactions between Cherrill and Emma very much, especially the pointed sarcasm from Emma. There was an ease in her portrayal of a friend, trying to help and offer sensible advice. It was nice to see Robert back on stage after some time away. His wronged fiancé character was delivered with confidence and one could not help but feel sorry for him all the way through as he fought to remain a part of Cecily’s life, even if that meant more as a friend. There was a warmth and vulnerability to him.
As in most Christie offerings there are characters which appear just to cause confusion, when you think you have sorted everything out and you know how it is going to end, and this was just the same with the introduction of Hodgson, the gardener, played by John Westbrook. This character had me rethinking my own conclusion as there was a whiff of mystery about the man. I wondered if the bunches of flowers he kept bringing were dosed in poison at one point. I particularly enjoyed the local yokel accent that was used.
Georgina Dalgliesh provided some of the comedy moments that broke the tension. Her portrayal of the maid, Ethel, was super and again had me wondering if there were something a little more sinister to her and if she and her gardener father were up to no good.
If there is poison suspected in the plot then it would stand to reason that there would be a doctor who has access to it, such as Alex Clarke, the village Dr. Gribble, who wonderfully added to the plot’s confusion, but who was also vital to the unmasking of the would be murderer.
The sets established the place for the action. In the first act Polina Sparks and Alan Reidsma and team had built the flat shared by Cecily and Mavis. It had just the right amount of furniture and props, which meant there was plenty of room for the cast to move around. In the second act this was transformed into the country cottage. All other people in the various backstage departments contributed to the success and enjoyment of the play. I totally agree with Garth, when he says in the programme, “This is a team effort.”
Thank you for your hospitality as always.