A Dark and Atmospheric Murder Mystery heralds the New Year


Carlton Players open their New Year at the Little Theatre in Birkenhead with a production of Agatha Christie’s ‘Love From A Stranger’. Not knowing too much about this piece, I was pleased to meet up with director Elaine Louise Stewart who informed me that the play is in fact a 1936 stage adaptation by Frank Vosper of a short story by Agatha Christie, ‘Philomel Cottage’, which dates from 1924. It was described at the time as a ‘brilliant terror play’ and which led to some stage, film, and radio adaptations in the 1930’s and 1940’s, including a run on Broadway. A little more research reveals a further radio dramatization in 2002 and a couple of low-key stage productions but then the trail, in true crime-writing style, goes dead and it is left to Stewart to put me out of my misery and provide an overview of the story.


This classic drama tells of Cecily Harrington who, whilst her fiancé is travelling in the Sudan, wins a big prize in a sweepstake. She decides to postpone the wedding to spend a portion of the money on a European trip. During her travels, she meets Bruce Lovell, who sweeps the romance-craving Cecily off her feet, marries her, and takes her to his out-of-the-way cottage in the country. However, Lovell is not the charming gentleman he appears to be. Instead, he is a homicidal maniac of the most eerie, repulsive type, and is resolved to murder his new wife, just as he has murdered several other women before her. When a series of circumstances leads Cecily to realize the ghastly fact, she finds herself caught like a rat in a trap. Agatha Christie works typically feature either investigative spinster Miss Marple or Belgian detective Hercule Poirot to work it all out for us but there is no such thing in this gripping drama where the audience are drip-fed the clues and as the plot unravels, the suspense is ramped up as we are left to wonder less about whodunnit and more about how or if Cecily will escape. I’m already on the edge of my seat before Stewart elaborates further on how, whilst remaining faithful to the period, she has taken the opportunity to breathe some new life into the production with some added emphasis on its inherent humour and exciting ideas on its staging and lighting. I really cannot wait to see this one. How about you?

Stewart hails from North Liverpool and having graduated from university in Liverpool with a degree in Drama, Theatre Studies, and English Literature, she remained in the area and began working with several arts groups in the city including Hope Street Ltd, Brouhaha International and DaDaFest. Her subsequent involvement with Liverpool Network Theatre where she initially acted and provided back-of-house support led to her directorial debut with Dracula and more recently her superb production of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, both at the now sadly defunct Lantern Theatre on Blundell Street. She also regularly works with other theatre groups. Given the critical success of Dorian Gray, I am curious as to whether it will be re-staged as Brimstone Theatre did with their production of Doctor Faustus last November and with which Stewart was also heavily involved. Stewart is keen but noted that Liverpool Network Theatre have never re-staged any of their productions – that could be to their detriment as I can easily see another group picking that one up with Stewart in their absence.


Whilst Stewart acts and directs, along with her other roles in costume design and make-up, her dream would be to become a professional director. She admits the nerves get to her with any production she is involved in but she watches them through to provide the necessary feedback to the cast following each performance and to ensure her own self-improvement – now that’s dedication. As she continues to build up a comprehensive portfolio, including her own stand-up comedy routine, I don’t think it can be too long before her dream is realised.


The Little Theatre in Birkenhead is a delightful venue complete with bar and seating almost 300 including full disabled access. Productions date from 1930 and there are some wonderful photographs of earlier members adorning the interior. There is free parking to the rear of the theatre from 6.30pm.


The Carlton Players are the resident company at The Little Theatre and produce 7 plays a year including a pantomime, comedies, and serious plays.


Further details for both can be found at http://www.carltonlittletheatre.co.uk/


The production of 'Love From A Stranger’ runs Tuesday 24th January through to Saturday 28th January with performances starting at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced at £8 (£6 concessions) and are available via https://www.ticketswirral.com/LoveFromAStranger


Previewer: Mark Davoren