“It’s Lived not Recited”- Justin Avoth and Nicola Sanderson on Agatha Christie’s Love From A Stranger

Megan Chapman | 12th July 2018


Agatha Christie is one of the most beloved and successful female playwrights of all time.


One of her plays, Love From a Stranger, is currently playing at The Lowry Theatre in Salford.


The play is a gripping thriller which follows the character of Cecily Harrington (Helen BradburySherlock, Genesis) as she quickly falls for the dashing Bruce Lovell (Sam Frenchum- Doctors, Loot) – but is he who he appears to be?


Alongside are Michael Lawrence (Justin Avoth- Coronation Street, A Midsummers Night Dream) who is Cecily’s ex-fiance, and Louise Garrard (Nicola SandersonEastenders, Fast Food) who’s Cecily’s bumbling and hilarious aunt.


Avoth and Sanderson portray both characters wonderfully and VIVA got to catch up with both of them.


How is being in a play that’s written by one of the biggest playwrights in the world?


NS: Yeah it’s great. She’s the most performed female playwright I think so that’s quite an interesting thing because most people think of her as a novelist more than a playwright.


It has been a really interesting job to do because it’s a thriller so it’s a very tight story and as actors, there’s not a lot of room for ambiguity. You have to serve the plot and the story but that has its own rewards as well. It’s really interesting when you hear an audience go along with the story because you realise you’re telling it well.


JA: Gosh I don’t know what to add to that. There’s something about it that I just can’t get to. It’s not just like doing t.v on stage because there’s an intervention by a living audience, but it does feel like your presenting, in a thoroughly lived way, a plot and series of moments that exists only on the stage. There’s an immediacy to that.


Aunt Lou-Lou (Nicola Sanderson)

What attracted you to the play?


JA: Unemployment attracted me to the play. I suddenly found myself unusually unemployed and I was asked to do it ha-ha.


NS: I think when you read it you do think oh this is a bit old fashioned and we [the cast and director Lucy Bailey] had bits and pieces of dialogue taken out which would seem very old-fashioned nowadays.


One of the reasons I wanted to do it is because Lucy Bailey is such a brilliant director and I’ve seen her work so I knew she’d do something interesting with the script.


JA: Yeah that’s true, I’m being disingenuous in saying that it is entirely down to unemployment. I have worked twice with Lucy before so there was that. She has a very strong sense of how a design can help a story and she enables people and doesn’t disable them.


Actually, when there is an Agatha Christie on television I do watch them, I’m not disinterested in that way. It’s quite a rare experience to have an opportunity to play a part in one and this one is not really well known.


NS: It isn’t and when everybody finds out you have a part in one they always say oh ”are you the main suspect?” or ”do you get killed”. This one isn’t really a who done it but more a why done it. It’s a real thriller in that respect so it’s a bit more unusual then what people expect.


JA: Yes and it’s more of a domestic drama so it’s more of a collective attempt to understand whats going on. There’s no real godlike overview that anyone has where they just know stuff, they all just stumble across things.


NS: Yeah and it is about an abusive relationship. In the production what we have tried to do is find the truth in that relationship. Hopefully, the audience recognises something real going on rather than a who hit who over the head with a candlestick.


Obviously, candlesticks feature but not as murder weapons!


Cecily (Helen Bradbury) and Bruce (San Frenchum)

The set in the show is fantastic but how is it for you as actors dealing with all the changes?


JA: It’s alright if you’re on the right side of it. It’s quite hard if your not because one leg goes one way and the other leg goes another way!


NS: Yes it is and that’s something you see about and negotiate in the rehearsal room. But of course that all changes once you’re in a theatre. Especially with this set because it moves and there’s different levels and all of that. You sort of have to relearn what you’re doing physically.


JA: When a set is good it’s always thrilling to see it. Sometimes it’s challenging because sometimes you arrive on a set and the leap from the rehearsal room feels like a big one.


How is it playing your respective characters, especially when they realise what is going on?


JA: I don’t think I really know whats up actually. It’s quite interesting I’ve always felt that when I come to re-engage with Cecily just before they go away, I’m never sure of what Michael is aware of.


He doesn’t like the man obviously and his instinct is telling him things but he is fighting what is personal to him. His emotions are messy and he’s just given up whats important to him and made a fool of himself.


I think that maybe stops him or specifically, from his point of view, it enables Bruce to do things.


NS: Lou-Lou in the first half she’s just an idiot. For her personally its a terrible blow because she has absolutely no money and she’s hoping the Cecily is going top marry lovely Michael and she’ll be set up for the rest of her days.


This interloper is bad news. Then in the second half, she thinks that he may have a past and maybe he was a womaniser but I don’t think she knows that he is what he is.


What’s very clear is all the characters are very well motivated, there’s a lot at stake for all of them. They’re all invested in Cecily in one way or another so that gives us, as actors, something really strong to play which is very satisfying.


Michael (Justin Avoth)

How would you encourage people to come and see the show?


NS: They’ll have a cracking night out! One of the reasons it’s so good is because people are gripped by it but are entertained as well.


People who have seen the show have said ”we were talking about it all the way home!”.


JA: It’s complex, It’s more complex then people think in a way. There’s a grim black humour to it.

It’s surprising I think.


NS: Yes and if you think ‘urgh it’s Agatha Christie, It’s going to be like the mouse trap’ it’s not. It’s not a who done it it’s a real thriller with real emotional intensity.


If you hate Agatha Christie come and see it and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


JA: It’s definitely lived not recited.


Album 1

Cecily (Helen Bradbury) and Bruce (San Frenchum)Aunt Lou-Lou (Nicola Sanderson)Cecily (Helen Bradbury)Cecily (Helen Bradbury) and Bruce (San Frenchum)Cecily's friend Mavis Haig (Alice Haig)Michael (Justin Avoth)