Gripping stuff, eventually

Love From A Stranger, The Jill Freud Company, Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, until August 27 and St Edmund’s Hall, Southwold, August 30 to September 10.

Forget the contrived plot, implausible characters and all the inconsistencies; this suspense thriller – the last production in the Aldeburgh/Southwold summer season – is guaranteed to bring you (eventually) to the edge of your seat.

Based on a 1934 short story by the queen of crime fiction, Agatha Christie, it has been adapted for the stage by Louise Page, a former member of the script-writing team for BBC Radio 4’s rural soap, The Archers.

How Linda Snell or Eddie Grundy might cope with the goings-on in this drama must, like so much else about the plot, remain a mystery.

Alix, a 30-something woman in danger of being left on the marital shelf, finds herself in an idyllic, isolated cottage in the company of her friend, Fran, work colleague, Dick, and a traveller cum adventurer called Gerald.

Swept away by the romantic setting, Alix tries but fails to get a love commitment from Dick, her long-term admirer, and is then bowled over by the poetry recital of the charming Gerald, impulsively agreeing to marry him. Wed in haste, repent at leisure, as the old saying roughly goes, and after a blissful few weeks Alix begins to wonder if she has made the right decision.

Penelope Rawlins is superb as the sweet, na�ve and trusting Alix – falling to terrorised pieces on the surface but ultimately revealing hidden depths of solid, self-control.

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Viss Elliott-Safavi is a great contrast as the vivacious, scheming Fran, a woman who thinks she knows the ways of men but is bitterly thwarted in her attempt to hook the “butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth” Gerald, played with great, relaxed assurance by Michael Shaw. Jamie Chapman, brings a “boy next door” appeal to the diffident, tongue-tied character of Dick, while Clive Flint is a belligerent gardener, a man who knows his delphiniums from his gardenias and his maidens in distress from his villains.

There are a range of red herrings in this plot together with a variety of potential murder weapons, including a hammer, a spade and a pair of candlesticks, enough to satisfy even the most avid fan of Cluedo.

It is all very melodramatic, but the suspense does build and, as with many of Christie’s stories, there is a highly satisfying and ambiguous twist at the end of the tale, although the audience must for ever remain in the dark over what exactly is going on in the cottage’s cellar.

Richard Frost directs with a safe, assured hand and an energetic, well-focused and fully-committed cast rises to the challenge laid down by Page, a no doubt satisfied member of the first night audience.

Interesting to note that a film of the same title as the play, made in the 1940s, featured original music composed by Benjamin Britten, Aldeburgh’s most famous inhabitant.

David Green

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