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Love From A Stranger

Published by: Quentin Fox on 5th Jul 2018 | View all blogs by Quentin Fox

 

By Quentin Fox


Director Lucy Bailey has form in bringing thrillers such as Dial M For Murder
and Witness For The Prosecution to the stage. With Love From A Stranger she uses an expert eye for the Fifties aesthetic and mores to shift Agatha Christie’s 1936 joint work with Frank Vosper a couple of decades on from its origin to telling effect.

Rather than a tweedy whodunnit or Poundland Terence Rattigan, the spirit of this production is much closer to Peeping Tom, the Michael Powell Brit film classic about a murderous voyeur.

Cecily Harrington (Helen Bradbury) feels stifled. A pokey flat in Bayswater; a going-nowhere office job; the snobbism of the time, embodied by her Aunt Lulu (Nicola Sanderson); and, worst, the leaden prospect of marrying her dull fiancé Michael (Justin Avoth), due to return to this petty England after three years in the Sudan.

Lucky breaks come in the form of a sweepstake win of £25,000 to break the surly bonds of boredom, and meeting Bruce Lovell (Sam Frenchum), a romantic free-living American who turns up to rent her flat. It’s lust at first sight and repressed Cecily lets her inner wild horse out for canter, much to the consternation of BFF Mavis (Alice Haig); the sorrow of Michael, who gets the schnitz from Cec before he’s even had time to get the desert sand off his brogues; and the cut-glass disapproval of Aunt Lulu.

But before you can say ‘High nigh, brine cau,’ Cecily and Bruce are married and living in rural isolation, with only comedy yokels for company, and you begin to suspect that it’s not only the vowels that are going to be strangled. Bruce moves to isolate his wife from friends and family (Run, Cecily, run!), sets up his darkroom in the basement to which entry is definitely verboten (Are you listening Cec?) and reveals his love of forensic science magazines, the Razzle of psychopaths everywhere (Cecily, are you dim, or what?).

After the long set-up of the first act the rapt audience is well on the last train to Creepsville, wondering what lies beyond that final curve.

It’s all hokum, natch, and as the evening progresses it’s easy to see that the individual parts of the production are actually better than the whole.

Mike Britton’s sliding wall set smartly reinforces the overall sense of unease by distorting perspective. The opaque panels, revealed by Oliver Fenwick’s clever lighting allow us to see Lovell’s true intent behind his honeyed words.

The way Helen Bradbury plays Cecily you get a real sense of how intelligent women become fodder for simpering psychos; Sam Frenchum effects a brilliant transformation from sensitive wooer to petulant narcissist; and Justin Avoth gives a real depth to the jilted Michael, giving him a range of feeling far greater than his lines would suggest.

And, ultimately, though we know who the perp is, the production is still full of surprises.

Milton Keynes Theatre:  July 5, 7.30pm; July 6, 7.30pm; July 7. 2.30pm and 7.30pm.

Comments

1 Comment

  • Elaine Pinkus
    by Elaine Pinkus 11 days ago
    Loved your review. Please tell me there was a villain twirling mustache! Elaine
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