Agatha Christie is the most successful female playwright of all time including the legendary The Mousetrap which is now in its 66th uninterrupted year. This year a national tour of Love From A Stranger, from Christie’s repertoire shared with Frank Vosper, is making its way around the UK and has stopped off in Cardiff’s New Theatre.
Love From A Stranger is a psychological thriller following protagonist Cecily Harrington who, after winning half of a sweepstake, yearns for adventure away from her apparently dull engagement. All of this becomes a startling reality for her when the worldly Bruce Lovell comes to impulsively view her London flat for rent. The two embark on a whirlwind romance as Cecily abandons her fiance of five years for a marriage within weeks and a remote country cottage.
I loved the flawless character construction and seamless acting. Each member of the cast’s acting really fitted the tone and period of the play. However, there were three standout actors of the piece. The main example being Helen Bradbury’s construction of the complex balance between the naivety but headstrong character of Cecily Harrington. Her ability to both know what she wants but also be easily led was constructed in the most perfect way. Similarly, Sam Frenchum’s alterations as Bruce Lovell were pulled off so flawlessly within his vocal range were shocking but in the best way possible within this play. The final truly stand out performance came from a character type I’m usually not a fan of. Nicola Sanderson’s portrayal of Louise Garrard effortlessly blended this play’s specific form of comedy and the tone of dramatic form of conflict perfectly and still created a form of likeable character despite her vocal opinions.
However, despite these amazing cast members and the ensemble of actors supporting them, one aspect of this play truly stole the show. The set, and by extension lighting design, was absolutely wonderful. The ingenuous use of three areas which slide to reveal further areas and the extension of the second act to add a dark room and upper area to the added staircase were executed beautifully. While I say they stole the show they enhanced the performances rather than distracting from them. For example, as Bruce appears at the top of the stairs you can see hints of the floor of presumably the second floor but this is never fully lit or even referred to so it added to the tone of mystery. The sound design also enhanced shocking moments of lighting design such as blackouts and fade-outs, however, issues with static became quite distracting.
Unfortunately, my major issue with this play actually comes with the book believe it or not. I found the first act, while paced reasonably well, to be lacking in dramatic moments which stood out. I was surprised when the lights come up as there simply seemed to be no drama other than the obvious actions of Cecily. While the second act was far more dramatic there seemed to be a discrepancy with what clues the play was leaving which were obvious and which were seemingly subtle. All of the seemingly subtle plot points or symbols seemed to come to absolutly nothing and looked forgotten as the play came to its conclusion. On the other hand, all of the obvious clues resulted in my figuring out some major reveals halfway through the act.
Even in the ending which I thought to be the best moment of the play’s script attempted multiple twists within its ambiguity but the ultimate final result left me actually preferring one of the previous ‘versions’ over the reality. This also was not helped at all by the ambiguity of the final ending which left it unclear how much Cecily knew even though Bruce was seemingly directly revealing aspects to her and overall you are left with questions but not the questions you want to be asking.
Therefore, this play is truly a treat for those interested in theatre construction. If you want to see an ingenious set which is actually unlike most I have seen or well-constructed acting then this is the play for you. Overall I give Love From A Stranger three out of five stars.