Lily Canter reviews Love from a Stranger at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton
The erotic thriller was a staple of 1990s entertainment and now it makes an unexpected return in the guise of Agatha Christie stage play Love from a Stranger.
There is much overlap between cinema and stage in this production, which draws from groundbreaking films Peeping Tom and Psycho, to portray a voyeuristic psychopath who uses photography as a weapon.
Based on one of Christie's short stories Philomel Cottage, the production was a hit when it opened in the West End in 1936 but has long since been forgotten.
In a similar vein to recent BBC adaptation And Then There Were None, this is one of the ubiquitous author's most sinister and unsettling stories, with an undercurrent of menace throughout.
When office worker Cecily Harrington suddenly comes into money her life is turned upside down as she willingly escapes her mundane job, bland fiancé and London apartment following an exciting and impulsive meeting with American stranger Bruce Lovell.
But all is not as it seems as the newlyweds flee to the West Sussex countryside to begin their rapturous new life together.
It is only a matter of time before the romance violently implodes as the ticking clock which sounds at each scene change dramatically hints.
And further clues are scattered across the plot from the routine haircuts noted in Bruce's meticulous diary through to the luxurious scarf he gifts Cecily and the criminology series he subscribes to.
The sliding stage set adds to the sense of foreboding, as the familiar transforms into a new perspective before rolling back again.
Whilst the first act is a liberating whirlwind of escapism and desire underpinned by great humour and a hint of suspicion, the second act shifts gear as it focuses on the concealment and control enforced by Bruce.
The splendid light relief of Aunt Garrard, played with comic perfection by Nicola Sanderson, is replaced by a series of disturbing clues which mount to a chilling climax in which Helen Bradbury gives a remarkable performance as the awakening Cecily.
The final reveal is a sadistic mix of lascivious and nail-biting suspense which exemplify just how skilfully director Lucy Bailey and designer Mike Britton have reimagined this Christie masterpiece.
* Love from a Stranger runs at Royal and Derngate until March 17. Visit royalandderngate.co.uk to book.