LOVE FROM A STRANGER

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Written by Agatha Christie and Frank Vosper
Tabs Productions
Theatre Royal, Nottingham

Frank Vosper’s stage adaptation of Agatha Christie’s lesser-known work Philomel Cottage has been rediscovered in the 21st century, with Northampton’s Royal and Derngate teaming up with Fiery Angel to tour the work in 2018. Now it’s being produced for the first time as part of the Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season which is in its 35th year at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal.

The season has become a summer treat for fans of the thriller genre, with Love From a Stranger preceding John Goodrum’s Father Brown – A Crime at Christmas, Brian Clemens’ Murderous Liaisons and Snake in the Grass by Alan Ayckbourn.

The 2023 season features a few regular actors, some who are returning to the Theatre Royal stage and a newcomer whose talents will be tested by performing one play in an evening and rehearsing the following week’s show the next day.

Love From a Stranger revolves around Cecily Harrington, a young woman who is bored with her office job and desperately wants to live a life of adventure. When she wins a large amount of money in a sweepstake, she spots her chance to go off in a totally different direction.

Lara Lemon (Cecily Harrington) and Jeremy Lloyd Thomas (Dr Gribble). Top: David Osmond (Bruce Lovell) and Susan Earnshaw (Louise Garrard)

She ditches her dull, long-term fiancé and finds love at first sight with Bruce Lovell, a carefree, exciting stranger who whisks her off her feet. They get married and settle in a remote country cottage. Naturally everything is not what it seems and Lovell begins to change. Is he suffering from an illness or is he hiding his real reason for becoming involved with Cecily?

While I was impressed by many of the performances in Love From a Stranger I found the first half quite wordy. The plot is simple yet Vosper tells us as much as he possibly can about all the characters before delivering an intriguing close to the first act.

Lara Lemon is completely credible as Cecily, refusing to accept a life of domesticity and eager for excitement after her sweepstake win. Her concern for Lovell’s health is touching; you genuinely hope she hasn’t made a terrible mistake by marrying him.

As Lovell, David Osmond is charming, gentlemanly and appears a much better match for Cecily than her fiancé, being able to offer her the thrills and delights she craves. His metamorphosis into a troubled, mysterious individual is commendable.

Thriller Season debutant Pavan Maru makes a good job of Nigel Lawrence, the unstimulating fiancé who is only too eager to conform to society’s conventions. Another first-timer, Kia Pope, makes the most of the role of Cecily’s loyal friend Mavis Wilson.

Kia Pope (Mavis Wilson) and Pavan Maru (Nigel Lawrence)

Some of the Thriller Season regulars show why they’re asked to come back year after year. Susan Earnshaw deliciously shines as Cecily’s Aunt Louise who is aghast that her niece should fall for a stranger. Sarah Wynne Kordas shows how versatile she is with a manly portrayal of Hodgson the gardener and Jeremy Lloyd Thomas solidly portrays Dr Gribble whose wisdom helps to unfold some of the mysterious happenings.

Juliette Strobel gives a cheery display as intellectually challenged maid Ethel who provides some of the humour to lighten the tension.

Karen Henson directs with her usual reliable touch, particularly during the second act when the story unfolds in true Agatha Christie fashion.

The first half may take a while to get going but I can guarantee that you won’t guess the ending – a dramatic conclusion which means you virtually forget any misgivings you might have about the earlier part of the play.

* This review originally appeared on the British Theatre Guide website

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