Reviewed by Linda Pickford
Do you enjoy a good psychological thriller? Then you will enjoy this play. Based on an original short story by Agatha Christie, Philomel Cottage, who later rewrote it as a stage play. Later, in 1932, the actor Frank Vosper adapted it even further into Love From A Stranger. In this production the clever director Lucy Bailey again moves it forward into the 1950’s. A time when all woman were supposed to want was marriage to a good man.
Cecily Harrington, played wonderfully by Helen Bradbury, had just won a £25,000 sweepstake. Her dreams of travel and adventure now seemed possible but her longstanding engagement was a problem. The wedding was arranged, and her future husband was returning from the Sudan today. Her flat was put on the market for rent and all was prepared. She should have been ecstatic but felt trapped and disappointed with her future life. Enter Bruce Lovell, an adventurer recently returned from his Canadian travels. He arrives to inspect the flat and become its temporary tenant. His flattering attention to her and suggestions of an exciting time ahead is just what she needs. Is he what he seems? What about his suggestive smelling of her clothes in the bedroom and his habit of taking numerous photographs? Cecily notices known of this and despite pleadings from her interfering Aunt Louise (Nicola Sanderson) and best friend Mavis Wilson (Alice Haig) decides to run away with him.
Our next scene opens in a secluded cottage in West Sussex. The couple are now married and set to live happily ever after. It’s not all its seems however. Bruce is slowly removing Cecily from all the people she knows and trusts. He attempts to stop her employing a housemaid and a gardener but is foiled. Aunt Louise turns up unexpectedly and he is furious. Gradually he is weaning her from all control of her life even persuades her to sign documents without reading them first. Naturally all his money is still tied up with the lawyers and banks. Her friends and indeed old fiancé do not give up on her though and still come to visit on the day before they plan to leave to travel abroad for several months. Bruce’s behaviour is becoming even more strange. The orchestrated lighting effects add to the threatening atmosphere giving the audience a sense of danger to come. Wow what an ending! I will leave you guessing. We all left the theatre with much muttering and discussion about the final act.
All in all, a true thriller right to the end with laughter and audience gasps on the way. It is unhelpful to single out one particular actor for praise. The whole cast were needed to keep the drama going and they did with skill and dexterity. Brilliant to watch.
The director, Lucy Bailey, kept the tension running with some of us anxiously waiting for the next move. The unusual red lighting and the moving of the set across the stage were very clever. The unsettled feelings were increased at every step. What was going to happen next? What did his little notebook reveal? You must see this play.
The Theatre Royal at Plymouth is a delightful venue, centrally situated with ample parking, public transport and eating establishments nearby.
Tickets cost from £13 to £29 (booking fees may apply).
Love From A Stranger is at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth from 29 May to 2 June 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.theatreroyal.com or call the box office on 01752 267222.
Theatre Royal Plymouth, Royal Parade, Plymouth, PL1 2TR | 01752 267222