Monday, 18 November 2019

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Love From A Stranger - The Little Theatre, Altrincham.

‘This is Agatha Christie but not as you know her’, wrote Director Garth Jones in the programme for this play and that was an understatement to say the least. The setting was 1930’s middle class England and there was a growing mystery as to the main character’s real intentions and after that, the similarities as to what we know as essential ‘Agatha Christie’ become very hard to find indeed. It is as if the co-author Frank Vosper, like a criminal trying to cover his tracks, went all out once he’d got his hands on an Agatha Christie story, to remove all traces of her and in classic Agatha Christie tradition, ‘very nearly got away with it’.

The play is perhaps most comparable to the famous Victorian melodrama ‘Gaslight’, moving with the same slow pace and no apparent crime being committed until very late on. The cast certainly did their best with the script and the director kept them moving around the stage but the weak plot line and dry dialogue prevented any real sense of mystery of suspense developing until near to the end. There were frequent elements of comedy but a lot of this was unintentional, such as when an uber-reserved and prudish maiden aunt-type character declared ‘You can trust me, I’m a woman of the world’, or when a young American about to kiss his fiancĂ© announces whilst sounding just like James Cagney in ‘Angels With Dirty Faces’, ‘this is the most important day in my life’.

The whole play could easily have worked as an ‘Allo Allo’ type farce and all the ingredients were there, right from the ludicrous premise of a woman who has been in an engagement for over five years suddenly deciding to marry a man she has known for just over half an hour. Of the two suitors, one was well built with dark hair, one was very slim with fair hair with one of them being American; does that bring a popular 30’s comedy duo to mind? The deviousness, persuasive manner of the American made him the obvious villain from the outset (as if the audience were expected to boo) and both the gardener and housemaid were always quietly deferential until whenever they had to call someone from the French window, then bellowing out as if selling newspapers in Leicester Square.

There was much to like about the production aside from the script. The costuming was excellent, with almost every cast member wearing various fetching period outfits.

The set in the second half gave a nice impression of a comfortable 1930’s residence (although the set for the first act was marred by a large central curtain). The casting was essentially very good and it was nice to see a number of new, younger faces. All the actors managed to keep straight faces whilst delivering what must have seemed like frequent excruciating lines and there was a genuinely tense situation created towards the end, between the lead couple, played by Sarah Riley and Harry Chalmers-Morris. The script was delivered flowingly throughout the entire performance and there is no question that this was a good cast who were well directed.

Altrincham Little Theatre generally select good and engaging plays to perform but 'Love From A Stranger' was not one of them and perhaps the lesson to be learned is to be wary of a top class writer who has seemingly left his or her work be re-written or adapted.

'Love From A Stranger' runs until 23rd November 2019.

Reviewer - John Waterhouse
on - 17/11/19

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