Love from a Stranger

13th - 20th April 2024

Agatha Christie & Frank Vosper | The Crescent Theatre | Directed by Rod Natkiel

It seems we can’t get enough of Agatha Christie. The ‘Queen of Crime’ continues to excite the public imagination with her stories of murder nearly 50 years after her own death. ‘The Mousetrap’ has been running in the West End since 1952; ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ looks set to run and run at London County Hall; ‘And Then There Were None’ has just finished a UK tour and ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ starts one later this year. Christie is clearly good box office and, in the latest production from Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre directed by Rod Natkiel, it’s easy to see why.

‘Love from a Stranger’ is an adaptation by Agatha Christe and Frank Vosper of her earlier play ‘The Stranger’ and her short story ‘Philomel Cottage’. There’s no sign of Marple or Poirot in this collaboration but audiences can expect all the other classic Christie ingredients: suspense, murder and a plot which twists and turns all the way to the cleverly constructed denouement.

Poppy Chalmer’s set design and props instantly transport us back to 1930s Britain and the period is also brought convincingly to life in the costuming and the beautifully delivered ‘RP’ accents of the cast. The ‘stranger’ of the play’s title is Bruce Lovell, a mysterious charmer who offers Cecily Harrington ‘love’ and an escape ticket from her unexciting life and fiancé Nigel. Although financially independent after a large sweepstake win, Cecily is quickly swept off her feet and, after a whirlwind romance, finds herself in a remote country cottage with a new husband who, she soon realises, may not be all that he appears.

Helena Lima is a convincing Cecily: naïve but strong, innocent but impetuous. We connect with her desire to escape a suffocating life of upper-class manners and embrace adventure and we fear for her as the story unfolds. Her connection with loyal friend Mavis (Savannah Gallo – excellent) is entirely authentic and her bond with Julie Lloyd’s wonderfully snobbish Auntie Loo Loo delivers many of the evening’s moments of comic relief.

The cast is consistently strong. Alex Morey-Wiseman’s Bruce cuts an imposing figure, combining debonair charm and easy manners with something entirely more subtle and menacing. As his true nature becomes slowly clearer there is a palpable and growing tension between him and his new wife. Alexander Pendleton commands our sympathy as jilted fiancé Nigel, moving from incredulous outrage to loving concern as the story develops. Completing the eight-strong ensemble, Michael Barry delivers perfect comic timing as yokel gardener Hodgson, Brian Wilson is a sincere and convincing Doctor Gribble and Kaitlyn Elward is perfectly clumsy as raw country-girl and household servant Ethel.

The pace lags a little at times: it takes too long to reach the tense final scene and would have benefitted from a few judicious cuts, but it is worth the wait when it does arrive. A highly recommended night of murder and mystery, guaranteed to intrigue Christie newcomers and fans alike.

‘Love from a Stranger’ is playing at Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre from 13th to 20th April 2024. Christie fans will be pleased to hear that ‘Murder on the Nile’ will be staged in April 2025.