When prim and proper secretary Cecily dumps her fiance and hastily marries the handsome and charming man she has only just met, she expects a life filled with the adventure she has longed for.
But Love From a Stranger, which opened at the New Theatre, Cardiff tonight (Tuesday 17 April) is a thriller by Agatha Christie, so you just know that Cecily’s married life in a remote country cottage, with a mysterious man she barely knows, is likely to be anything but idyllic.
Based on a little-known (at least by me) Christie story Philomel Cottage and her stage adaptation The Stranger, this Frank Vosper play was a hit on the West End and Broadway in the 1930s. And Lucy Bailey’s revival more than 80 years on is a real treat for modern audiences.
Updated to 1958, the convincing period sets by Mike Britton, slide to provide different perspectives of Cecily’s flat and, later, the increasingly oppressive and sinister marital home.
The production is inspired by the disturbing 1960 psycho-killer movie Peeping Tom, and it shares the themes of voyeurism, lust and murder – though here they are kept (mainly) below the surface.
Cecily’s handsome stranger is never far away from his camera and notebook, but while Peeping Tom was set in sleazy Soho, here we are in more ‘respectable’ Christie territory – affluent Bayswater and rural Sussex.
Helen Bradbury is totally convincing as the elegant Cecily, all sophisticated ’50s glamour, opposite Sam Frenchum as the mysterious Bruce, who isn’t quite what he seems, but what exactly is he?
There’s a super supporting cast too, with Justin Avoth, Alice Haig, Crispin Redman, Gareth Williams, and notably Nicola Sanderson as snobbish Aunt Louise and Molly Logan as whirlwind kitchen maid Ethel, both providing some much-needed light relief as the tension builds. (Most notably, on opening night, when a drinks trolley was accidentally knocked over, necessitating some superb ad-libbing, especially from ‘Auntie Lou’)
Love from a Stranger is a brilliantly staged thriller, which begins like a light-hearted domestic drama, and gradually ratchets up the threat level until a nightmarish final confrontation, which will shock and surprise.
It plays at Cardiff’s New Theatre all week until Saturday 21 April. For full details and to book tickets, visit newtheatrecardiff.co.uk or call the box office on 029 2087 8889.
Review by Andrew Weltch