love from a stranger

Helen Bradbury and Sam Frenchum. Picture: Sheila Burnett

Love from a Stranger

The New Alexandra Theatre


Alfred Hitchcock said ``Suspense is like a woman. The more left to the imagination, the more the excitement.’

It’s unfortunate then that this production of Love from a Stranger is lacking in real excitement at the expense of overlooking the imagination.

That’s not to say it’s not worth seeing but this 1936 Agatha Christie and Frank Vosper thriller is layered with so many red herrings you need a big net to keep them all in.

Perhaps it’s more down to the reworking and trying to make the storyline work effectively, thus requiring the need for a healthy suspension of disbelief where the confusion lies.

Christie herself wrote the play from one of her own short stories, Philomel Cottage, then sometime after Frank Vosper added his touch to it.

Since the 1937 film with Basil Rathbone, in full on melodramatic flow, and another in 1947 with John Howard, this psychological thriller has not seen much of the light of day. Director Liz Bailey has put a 1950s spin on the story and added a few more gratuitous sexual advances to give it a modern edge but those seem out of place considering the pedigree.

The plot is pretty much straightforward; a young lady, Cecily Harrington (Helen Bradbury) wins £25,000 and is about to leave to marry Michael (Justin Avoth).

She however is hesitant and frustrated with the notion of an ordinary life and her boring office job. When the mysterious American Bruce Lovell (Sam Frenchum) suddenly arrives, he sweeps her off her feet and into what seems like marital heaven in a romantic country cottage, but all is not as it seems.

A major component of the set design by Mike Britton is its ability to slide across stage in the central section, revealing other parts of the rooms. The use of gauze and lighting enables the audience to peer thru walls and see what’s happening in secret to the other characters. This is used to good effect when we see Lovell alone photographing items in Cecily’s bedroom and instances when he appears at the top of the stairs listening suspiciously to conversations below.

Helen Bradbury is superb in the role of Cecily and does so much to convey her feelings through her body language. The tension in her impending marriage to Michael, her release and joy after her marriage to Lovell and the transition to fear when the twists begin to kick into the plot, all seem to manifest them physically in her performance.

In the role of Lovell, Sam Frenchum is effectively slimy and controlled but a little more energy at the prospect of his plans in his character would not have gone amiss. We know he’s up to no good but he just seems odd rather than pathological.

The issues of delivering this kind of detailed, factual plot often suffer due to the simple ability to hear them on a large stage. This was true here with some of the exaggerated accents not adding to the clarity and understanding of the dialogue all which rendered the final outcome a little confusing. 

There was good support in the shape of Alice Haig as Mavis Wilson, Crispin Redman as Dr Gribble and Nicola Sanderson as Louise Garrard.

Putting aside the issues it’s still entertaining and the clever lighting and sound punctuations help the mood and tension. The inventive set adds an air observation for the audience in a very cinematic way and overall is very well done.

Once you have bought into the story you are intrigued to know the outcome and whilst it comes to a satisfying conclusion you do end up dipping back into the action to make sense of the ending.

Still with some excellent performances, a crafted set and clever staging it still makes this Love from a Stranger shockingly good fun. To 19-05-18

Jeff Grant


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