Tre Ventour reviews Love from a Stranger at the Royal Theatre Northampton…
After Cecily Harrington (Helen Bradbury) breaks her engagement to Michael Lawrence (Justin Avoth) following meeting Bruce Lovell (Sam Frenchum), a stranger who enquires about renting her apartment, things change. Lovell comes to look at the apartment. Not long later, he is confessing his love to her and they elope. However, on their travels together, things aren’t how they seem and she begins to suspect and fear him.
After watching Poirot (David Suchet) and Miss Marple, as well as Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, and the BBC adaptation of Witness for the Prosection (2016), I’m a new fan of Agatha Christie. I also read Murder on the Orient Express before seeing the Branagh film. I did not see that twist coming. It’s safe to say that my love for her work comes from the screen adaptations, growing up around grandparents who loved those sorts of stories.
Love from a Stranger is adapted by Frank Vosper via Agatha Christie’s original short story, Philomel Cottage (1924). This is not your conventional crime story. Having grown up in the noughties, it’s good that I have access to these stories of old. This version is alike to Silence of the Lambs (with a Christie twist). This is a slow-burning, psychological thriller with strong characters and sound design to keep you on your toes.
Bradbury is really good as Harrington, donning the period attire with elegance (great costume design may I add). Her doubting of herself is not too dissimilar to that of Clarisse Sterling (Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs) or even Will Graham (Hannibal in later seasons). I guess this depicts how writers of the past inform writers and stories of the present. Or I could be looking into this a little too much. Nonetheless, the characterisation is fantastic, as is the pacing. I was just getting comfortable when the first half ended. Love from a Stranger is convincing and realistic, as it truly conveys that when it comes down to it, we never truly know anyone. We are nothing less than what we choose to reveal.
It’s known that in life, enemies can present themselves as friends and vice versa. Lovell is the former. He is the catalyst for all of the bad happenings. After telling an elaborate tale about his “travels”, Harrington is sold – hook, line and sinker. He tells her what she wants to hear when she wants to hear it. Frenchum is great as Lovell, sinister and charming enough to convince audiences that he was a man with good intentions. I didn’t suspect him until he unveiled “his evil plan”. She fell for him in a single afternoon. Disney romance much? He’s a extraordinary as the lead: chilly, creepy and charming. Christian Bale plays Patrick Bateman in the screen adaptation of American Psycho and it looks like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Love from a Stranger isn’t all doom and gloom. Louise Garrard (Nicola Sanderson) and Ethel (Molly Logan) were great comedic relief. It was legitimately funny, free from cringe but with lots of laugh out loud moments. Not too different from Brief Encounter at the Playhouse Theatre last month. Both fit their roles well, bringing a much needed lightness to a play that would have been a dark mark had they been absent.
Directed by Lucy Bailey (Gaslight), this is another of the Royal and Derngate’s ‘Made in Northampton’ productions. From the lighting and sound to the music to the costume and snap blackouts / starts, it’s rather slick. The Period Drama is one of my favourite genres of film and this was like a film, a low budget British, independent film that I could have sat and watched in the Errol Flynn Filmhouse. I was revelling in it from start to finish. My only criticism is the moving set. Did the set have to move as frequently as it did? It was distracting and has the potential to detach audiences from what had previously occurred within the main story. That aside, it’s plain sailing.
This is not a big and epic like Hamlet in the Derngate auditorium but it’s low-key and subtle (until the last second). It’s a cosy, period thriller. What a metaphor for mid-twentieth century psycho-thriller / horror. The set itself is great; the fact that it moves is what annoys me. The acting is excellent. So are the aesthetic features and it’s a well-done show. Good job.