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Love from a Stranger

Love from a Stranger
Writers: Agatha Christie, Frank Vosper
Director: Tui Clark
Genesian Theatre Company
January 14-February 18, 2023

A high-spirited take on Love from a Stranger from the Genesian Theatre Company offers an immensely entertaining night at the theatre. While the play underscores the adage “be careful of what you wish for”, the production’s irrepressibly amusing recognition of the conventions of the old-style mystery genre make it both funny and refreshing.

Originally written as a short story entitled Philomel’s Cottage in 1924, and dramatised by Agatha Christie in 1934, the retitled play received acclaim in the West End and on Broadway after a rewrite by actor Frank Vosper. The story is a familiar one – that of a woman trapped by a man who others instinctively identify as dangerous – but a by-no-means outdated tale as the internet offers unparalleled opportunity for exploitation.

The play opens abruptly throwing the audience off balance a little and perhaps paralleling the situation of Cecily Harrington (Emilia Kriketos) who, with her sensible friend Mavis (Kimberlea Smith), has won $20,000 in a lottery. Cecily, a long-time under-valued secretary, will soon marry Nigel (Matt Doherty) who is returning on that very day from the Sudan where he has worked for three years. Mavis is leaving for a European tour, and Cecily’s flat is beset by would-be tenants.

Typically Agatha Christie, money is unsettling – and three years is a long time. Cecily has already begun to wish for a more adventurous life than the prospect of a marriage with the solid Nigel and the lottery win seems to offer escape from a union without passion.

Enter the villain, Bruce Lovell (Sam Walter), black hat slanted in a rakish manner, boyish stance, confident manner, American twang, accompanied by a musical motif in the manner of “Peter and the Wolf”. Posing as a would-be tenant, well-primed with details about his victim, he dishes out a sickeningly puerile set of compliments and Cecily falls into the trap. How could she? Only moments before she was craving freedom and, in the matter of an afternoon, agrees to marry him and is spirited away to an isolated (of course) cottage.

The large white framework (set design, Tom Bannerman) within the stage set and common to both settings was a succinct comment on Cecily’s belief she was escaping confinement merely to find herself re-imprisoned. How long will it be before she discovers Lovell’s wicked plan?

There are clues aplenty but once Cecily’s suspicions are confirmed how will she save herself? Spoiler alert – but be assured “the how” is absurdly clever and the outcome is as unexpected as it is comedic.

Kriketos, a charming woman in distress, Smith, the trustworthy friend, Doherty, the loyal rejected lover, and Walter, the dastardly perpetrator, play their roles to perfection and are well supported by the minor characters. Charlotte Launay doubles as Cecily’s scatty Aunt Lou in the first half, filling in the background to Cecily’s life, and appears again as the indispensable, perceptive Dr Gribble in the second while life in the country cottage is greatly enriched by the affable (and indispensable) gardener, Hodgson (Rod Stewart). Even the smiling young kitchen maid, Ethel (Claire Ji Eun Yi) is indispensable to this Christie-Vosper jigsaw.

Congratulations to the venerable Genesian Theatre Company on a sparkling commencement to their 2023 program and to a very receptive first-night audience.

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