As Agatha Christie wisely noted “where large sums of money are concerned, it is advisable to trust nobody”, advice that seems as relevant today as in 1924 when she wrote the short story which was to be adapted for the stage as Love from a Stranger. The Daily Herald said of the original 1936 West EnISH FOR…d production “our blood was gloriously curdled”, and claimed that the climax was so chilling to members of the audience that some fainted with the suspense. In the current heatwave the thought of being in any way chilled was enough to tempt us to the Lowry to take in Lucy Bailey’s new touring production, but how will this story of a whirlwind romance gone wrong fare
with a modern audience?
Bailey has relocated the story to the 1950’s, presumably an aesthetic decision as it has little bearing on the plot, where bored secretary Cecily Harrington (Helen Bradbury) seizes the opportunity to escape to a new life thanks to a stroke of financial good fortune and a chance meeting with a handsome stranger. Holed up in a remote cottage with her new husband Bruce (a genuinely villainous turn from Sam Frenchum), Cecily will realise he really is a stranger as events take a sinister turn.
We’re not in deep psychological thriller territory here as much as music hall ‘he’s behind you’ escapism, but it’s highly entertaining to watch between fingers as the oblivious Cecily slides further into danger, and the final twist in the tale is a deliciously dark surprise. The inventive set, music and lighting design ramp up the tension towards the climax, and given there is no question of ‘whodunnit’ the pace only rarely drops.
Despite knowing that it wasn’t likely to end well, there were plenty of moments of comic relief from the supporting cast, particularly Nicola Sanderson as Aunt Lulu and Molly Logan as Ethel, and convincing portrayals from Justin Avoth, as Cecily’s jilted fiancee Michael, and Gareth Williams as Hodgson the gardener.
We left the theatre without blood gloriously curdled (it would appear audiences in this day and age are a little harder to spook) but having thoroughly enjoyed the ride, and perhaps a little less likely to trust the next stranger who seems too good to be true.
Love from a stranger runs at the Lowry until 14th July, for more details and to book tickets click HERE