As with any Agatha Christie play, the intrigue lies not in who the murderer is, but how their schemes unfold. Frances Barker directs LUTG in bringing Christie’s tale of psychopathy to the stage. The Royal Arms Hotel provided the perfect backdrop for this tale of depravity, and the use of only two settings (two living rooms) gives the production a subtle intimacy as the story unfolds. My one criticism would be that the front row was too close to the action: I moved to the second row before the production began so that I could see the bigger picture.
Cecily Harrington (Mattie Lefevre) has come into some money. With £250,000 in the bank, she is gripped by a wanderlust that leaves her fiancé Nigel Lawrence (Christian Scales) in the dust. On the day he returns from his five-year stint in Sudan, Cecily calls off the engagement and meets the handsome American stranger Bruce Lovell (Will Meadmore). Bruce promises Cecily a life of adventure she could have only hoped for before winning big, and the two retire to a cottage in the country to rest before their grand tour around the world.
Meadmore effortlessly pulls off the charming stranger with his strong American accent and ability to command the audience’s attention. It is nothing short of a spectacle to see him and Lefevre as the focal actors in this play. Both immerse themselves in their characters, and neither put a foot out of place. Again and again, LUTG has reignited my passion for theatre, and Love from a Stranger is no exception to the rule.
When the pair settles in the countryside Bruce’s deviant nature swims tantalisingly closer to the surface of their day-to-day lives. Lighting is used to excellent effect in this production: it adds a sense of gravitas to the critical moments in which we see Bruce’s mental decline. These palpable scenes left me in suspense: how can the unassuming groundskeeper Hodgson (Benjamin O’Rourke) and the over-excitable house made Ethel (Holly Jones) save Cecily from Bruce?
O’Rourke and Jones imbue their everyman characters with likability and realism. O’Rourke’s decision to give the country bumpkin Hodgson a soft-spoken manner is a refreshing take on what could have been a ham-fisted characterisation.
Fortunately for Cecily, love dies hard. In the second act, Nigel bombards her with visits, her worried friend Mavis (Amy Burcher), and her interfering Auntie Loo Loo (Alice Sherlock). Sherlock brings a great deal of humour to the role, and although she sometimes speaks too quickly to catch a breath, this is perhaps even more indicative of the distant relative that must make themselves heard. Helen Tilby has high praise from me, whose work as a costumier and make-up artist tied the production together. In the first scene, my very first thought was: great coats.
What strikes me most about Love from a Stranger is the professionalism of all aspects of the production. Lighting, costumes, and sound weave their way through the narrative to create a real spectacle for the audience. As for Lefevre and Meadmore, I would not be surprised to see them leading stage productions in years to come.
I’d buy a ticket.