‘Love From A Stranger’ Twists and Turns in Classic Christie Style
While 10,000 British pounds sterling may not seem like a life-changing sum of money, when Agatha Christie penned the short story Philomel Cottage in 1924, it was enough money for the protagonist Cecily Harrington to quit her job and take up with a man she had only shared one lunch with, throwing all caution to the wind.
The story was reworked for the stage (1934) with the current adaption written by British actor-playwright Frank Vosper (1899-1937). The play is being staged by the Ottawa Little Theatre Company, with Wednesday-Sunday performances until November 11, 2023.
Fans of Agatha Christie’s famous detectives, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, may not recognize this lesser-known work. Still, it follows the character development, plot twists and turns, and clue-dropping that Christie is famous for. The standout difference is that Love From A Stranger does not include a sleuth or detective to piece all the information together.
The curtain rises on Cecily (Karine Charland) and coworker Mavis’s (Erin Chappel) pre-World War Two apartment, where the furnishings scream stuffy-old-grandma but are, in fact, quite contemporary for the time. A somewhat eccentric Auntie Loo-Loo (Ann Scholbergh) is lending the young women a hand and a lot of unsolicited opinions to help them pack up their personal belongings before the flat is sublet.
Cool and confident Mavis, who shared in the winning with her friend, is heading off to travel the world for three months while Cecily finally has the funds to settle down and start a new life with the man she has been engaged to for five years. It seems a little dull for a woman who has just won a dream lottery, but Auntie Loo-Loo couldn’t be more excited that the handsome Nigel (Shawn Anctil) is about to marry her niece.
In addition to her curmudgeon nature, Auntie Loo-Loo’s character is a vehicle for planting the seeds of doubt in the minds of the audience and foreshadowing things to come. In scene one, she tells Mavis that “people are so untrustworthy these days,” to which Mavis replies, “There are always references.”
Unfortunately, Cecily doesn’t look for any as she falls head over heels for the first man, Bruce Lovell (Dan DeMarbre), who walks through the door and speaks of a life of adventure. After the shotgun wedding, the newlyweds — but really Cecily on Bruce’s insistence — purchase a country home with no phone and an abandoned lane for an access road — the early 20th-century equivalent of no cell or internet service. In her love-struck state, Cecily fails to pick up on all the little oddities in her new husband’s behaviour and goes about living a pretty dull existence, full of arranging flowers and fussing over her husband’s ill health. It appears that life with Nigel wouldn’t have been so bad after all.
As with other works by Christie, the remote setting creates tension and a heightened sense of danger. The audience knows something is amiss and might jump to their own conclusions, but as with all writings by the great dame of crime, some clues are used to mislead.
Director Sarah Hearn has staged a wonderfully entertaining performance by the volunteer-run cast and crew of the Ottawa Little Theatre. Top marks go to actors Ann Scholbergh and Neil Kelly.
The story of greed that leads to crime continues to be current. Yet, the power of social media would have alerted Cecily to the nefarious plot long before Auntie Loo-Loo had finished unpacking her belongings.
Having live theatre in Ottawa is a real treat, and Ottawa Little Theatre is a wonderful venue with excellent pricing that makes it accessible to all.
Click here to purchase tickets to a performance of Love of a Stranger, or call the box office at 613-233-8948.
Ottawa Little Theatre is located at 400 Kind Edward Avenue and online at www.ottawalittletheatre.com
Photo: Maria Vartanova