CREAGH/CARR REVIEW: Love From A Stranger, MK Theatre

Love From a Stranger By Agatha Christie @ Frank Vosper Royal and Dernagate 23.Feb/17.March 2018. Cast: Justin Avoth Helen Bradbury Sam Frenchum Alice Haig Molly Logan Crispin Redman Nicola Sanderson Gareth Williams Director : Lucy Bailey Credit : Sheila Burnett NNL-180628-100759001
Love From a Stranger By Agatha Christie @ Frank Vosper Royal and Dernagate 23.Feb/17.March 2018. Cast: Justin Avoth Helen Bradbury Sam Frenchum Alice Haig Molly Logan Crispin Redman Nicola Sanderson Gareth Williams Director : Lucy Bailey Credit : Sheila Burnett NNL-180628-100759001

You get two for the price of one with the Creagh/Carr Review – the opinions of seasoned hackette Bev Creagh and flamboyant newshound Stewart Carr. Here’s what they thought of Love From a Stranger, playing at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday, July 7.

CREAGH SAYS .... When I was a little girl, my mother told me if I couldn’t say anything nice, not to say anything at all. That’s all well and good – unless you happen to be writing a review.

Well, let’s see – the music was dark and menacing, setting the scene. The set was stark and effective, with strip sections that moved from side to side.

But oh dear – the story. And the casting. Came out wishing I’d stayed home and watched England beat Colombia, even though I’m no footie fan.

Because the play was written by Agatha Christie (and Frank Vosper), I mistakenly thought I was in for an entertaining whodunit in a glamorous country-house setting with loads of posh-speaking suspicious characters.

Should have done my homework! It’s billed as a ‘chilling and tense psychological thriller’ but you could have fooled me.

Girl ditches fiancé of five years after winning stash of cash, takes up with dodgey American who comes to rent her flat. But there’s a twist in the tale – and no doubt you’ve sussed that too.

Helen Bradbury as Cecily Harrington, the upper class gel craving excitement after her big win, looks more like someone’s maiden aunt than a young ingenue, although she does do a good line in flirtatious archery. But Sam Frenchum simply doesn’t cut the mustard in the role of suave American Bruce Lovell, the shady photographer allegedly swept off his feet by simpering Cecily.

There is no chemistry whatsoever between them, in spite of several raunchy scenes bordering on the pornographic.

Jilted fiancé Michael Lawrence (Justin Avoth) is one of the few believable characters in this clunky tale while Gareth Williams is magnificent as Hodgson the gardener.

Ethel the maid may have raised a few laughs but Molly Logan’s performance was more suited to farce than serious theatre.

The only truly Christie characters were Alice Haig as Mavis and Nicola Sanderson as Auntie Loulou.

All I can say is no wonder this particular offering from the pen of the doyenne has stayed on the shelf for so long.

CARR SAYS .... Oh Agatha, this was not your finest moment!

The classic talespinner is usually a safe pair of hands for an evening of whodunnit murder mayhem, but this early attempt is one that deserved to moulder away in the archives.

An obscure short story first adapted into a play in 1936, Love From a Stranger is a melodrama that lumbers between female awakening and old-fashioned misogyny.

Young Cecily Harrington (Helen Bradbury) is in a flutter of hormones, having recently won £25k on a sweepstake while awaiting the return of her erstwhile fiance Michael (Jason Avoth), whose genuine love just isn’t enough to keep her in tow.

Beardman and D’Avoth’s cutglass accents hit all the right notes and the stilted romance and tension between them is palpable. It uplifts a soap opera subplot into something with a more meaningful spark.

Into Cecily’s life steps the phoney American Bruce Lovell (Sam Frenchum) in a performance so ham-fisted, it’s hard to ride along with it.

Bradbury and Frenchum jarr whenever they’re on stage, missing altogether the ingredients of seduction.

Director Lucy Bailey revels in the contradictions that lie at at the heart of Love From a Stranger. We occasionally depart from the tweed and greenery of postwar England into a world of red flashlights and seedy erotic conflict, awkwardly transitioning between the two.

Nicola Sanderson channels To The Manor Born as the eccentric Aunt Loulou, easily scoring the biggest laughs of the night, and Alice Haig adds in her own comedic irony to the part of Cecily’s straightlaced friend Mavis.

Indulgent and predictable but with a few great performances to boot - Love From A Stranger plays at Milton Keynes Theatre until July 7. See here for tickets.