BWW Review: LOVE FROM A STRANGER, Royal and Derngate
Agatha Christie and Frank Vosper's Love from a Stranger returns to the stage in this collaboration between Royal and Derngate and Firey Angel. And it's a disconcerting experience, as what starts off seeming like a conventional enough story turns into something altogether creepier.
Cecily Harrington (Helen Bradbury) has won a share of a sweepstake prize with her friend and flatmate Mavis. They're packing up their flat ready to rent it out, as Cecily's fiancé is about to return from Sudan ahead of their marriage and Alice Haig's Mavis is going travelling. But Cecily is already having second thoughts when American Bruce Lovell (Sam Frenchum) comes to view the flat.
From the start, the audience knows that Bruce is up to no good - he's sneaking photographs of her and sniffing her underwear within minutes of his arrival. But Cecily is oblivious, jilting her fiancé and running off with her exciting new man.
At first, Bruce's presence seems merely incongruous compared to the seemingly more traditional drawing room comedy of the interactions with Mavis and Auntie Lou, but it's soon very clear that Cecily is in dangerous waters as she's swept off her feet by her new beau.
Bradbury is excellent as Cecily, lulling the audience into a false sense that they know exactly who she is, but I wasn't always completely sold on Frenchum's Lovell - for me, he wasn't always smooth enough to overcome the audience's knowledge that he's a creep, in order to be able to believe that Cecily could be seduced him.
Lucy Bailey's previous show at Royal and Derngate, Gaslight, proved that she can do atmospheric and suspenseful, and this gives the audience a slow build to a big finish. In fact, at times the build is so slow the audience doesn't realise that it's happening at all, which can be a little frustrating.
Mike Britton's clever set design has pieces sliding around to further disconcert and effective uses of blackout and sound effects set your nerves on edge. I found myself wanting a little bit more payoff, but that might just be because it's all so very discombobulating.
This somewhat forgotten Christie isn't what most people will be expecting - no gentle but clever Miss Marple here to solve a crime - but that works in its favour as it sneaks its way towards the big climax.
Photo credit: Sheila Burnett