Love From A Stranger

You know when something is not quite right, but you can’t put your finger on it?

That’s the enduring sensation after watching this production of Agatha Christie’s tale of whirlwind romance gone awry, but perhaps not for the reasons intended.

Cecily Harrington (Helen Bradbury) is a young woman on the verge of marriage, but a sweepstake win and the surprise entry of a worldy American (Sam Frenchum) changes all that. They elope to the country, leaving behind friends, family, and so it transpires, safety too.

The denouement is shocking and engaging, but until that point Lucy Bailey’s production feels too much on autopilot. Frenchum isn’t quite dashing enough to convincingly seduce, Cecily isn’t quite emotional enough to fall.

The action hints far too subtly at the torment to come, with the first act plodding along with plenty of laughs but a near complete absence of menace. In fact, the supporting cast is packed with clichéd comic distractions: Nicola Sanderson is the meddling aunt easily bought off with a packed lunch; Gareth Williams a slightly creepy but well-meaning old gardener; Molly Logan the slightly simple hired help. All are fine as far as they go, but it feels more farce than thriller at points.

There is some clever-clever staging that see parts of the set slide across the stage, and a photography motif that employs darkroom red lamps, flash bulbs and clicks – but these are used inconsistently, seemingly more because it can be done rather than because it genuinely adds depth.

The programme notes suggest Michael Powell’s 1960s film Peeping Tom as an influence on the staging, but there is a story that is genuinely creepy, with an awkwardness that gets nastily under your skin. Until the genuinely visceral sharpness of the final few minutes we get precious little of that tension; there is no sense of a vice being tightened, of a grip about to become uncomfortably tight.

In one vignette there is a scintilla of the modern, adult, play this could be as the newly-weds are surprised in some tawdry passion – but rather than inject some dark overtones it is played for a crude laugh.

The pieces and the talent are there. Just put them together a little tighter and make me squirm.