Peninsula Productions’ studio theatre in White Rock is where some people will meet “The Stranger” for the very first time.
The lesser-known Agatha Christie suspense story will play there from Aug. 18-28, in a late-summer staging for the Centennial Park-based theatre company.
Set in England in the early 1930s, the script follows Enid Bradshaw (played by Natalie Peters), a young business woman on the brink of marriage to safe, reliable Richard Lane (Luca Herring). Then, by chance, she meets and falls for a charming stranger, Gerald (Harrison MacDonald). Jilting Richard, she sets a course for danger — and a shocking, shattering conclusion.
The “lost classic” play promises vintage suspense, Christie-style.
“Everybody’s seen ‘The Mousetrap’ and ‘And Then There Were None,’” director Alex Browne concluded, “but few have seen ‘The Stranger,’ which Christie wrote in 1932, based on her 1924 story ‘Philomel Cottage.’ That’s partly because it was eclipsed by another version of the same story, ‘Love From A Stranger,’ in 1936, in which Christie’s concept was reshaped for the stage by well-known West End actor Frank Vosper.
“This play,” Browne added, “is Christie’s original version, one of a series of her early plays that have recently been republished and made available to theatre companies by Christie’s estate, after sitting gathering dust for decades. For fans of Christie, it’s virtually the next best thing to a brand new play.”
Browne, the prominent Peninsula-area actor, musician and newspaper reporter, says he’s having great fun directing the play with the help of producer Janet Ellis, wardrobe designer/photographer Kat Siemens, stage manager Hunter Lisle, production assistant Regan Holding, technical supervisor Grig Cook, technical consultant Logan Hallwas and photographer Rajiv Dhaliwal.
The cast also features Cassidy Hergott (as Enid’s best friend, Doris) and actor/director Lori Tych (in a dual role).
“We’re staging it with the audience in a horseshoe configuration — not quite theatre-in-the-round, but the audience will still feel very much like eavesdroppers on private conversations,” Browne explained. “We’re also doing it as authentically as possible to evoke the early 1930s British atmosphere, which is something dear to my heart.”
The theme of the play is one that Christie returned to often: just how well can one ever know that person we choose to spend our life with? Browne offered his take on why the playwright revisited that theme so many times.
“I think that, on a personal level, she felt a deep sense of betrayal as a result of her marriage to her first husband Archie Christie. Only two years after she wrote ‘Philomel Cottage,’ he announced that he was leaving her for his mistress.
“Agatha had what nowadays we would call a meltdown – she drove her car to a secluded spot next to a chalk pit in Surrey, England and abandoned it,” Browne added. “For 11 days no-one knew where she was. Her family was distraught; the police were scouring the country for her, fellow mystery-writer Dorothy L. Sayers organized search parties. No less a personage than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle engaged a spiritualist medium to see if this would produce any clues to her whereabouts.
“She was found staying at a small hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire, 150 miles north of her home, registered, oddly enough, under the surname of her husband’s lover,” Browne continued. “I don’t think anyone ever knew, fully, what happened during those 11 days. Officially she was diagnosed as having had an episode of stress-related memory-loss. People have conjectured about it, movies have been made. Christie never mentioned it in her autobiography – she took those kinds of secrets with her to the grave. But I feel that, like most writers, she made use of personal experience, often using her fiction to work out things she was feeling at the time. I think a lot of her private life, however heavily disguised, found its way into the pages of her novels and her plays.”
For the most part, the actors in “The Stranger” are no strangers to local stages.
“Natalie Peters, who plays Enid, is a rising young actor I had the good fortune to work with as a fellow cast member of Peninsula’s recent ‘Sorry Wrong Number,’” Browne noted. “She’s doing a marvellous job capturing a complex character with a lot of different levels, while still making Enid very appealing and sympathetic.
“Harrison MacDonald, as Gerald, has great instincts as an actor, which he’s putting to good use to create a most powerful and compelling characterization.
“Cassidy Hergott provides a wonderfully sweet, wise and witty presence in a key role as Enid’s best friend, Doris.
“Luca Herring, as jilted fiance Richard, embodies the soul of English rectitude and reserve but also has the ability to make you appreciate the real person suffering underneath the surface.
“Last, but certainly not least, Lori Tych – well known for her work with the White Rock Players Club and recent direction of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ for Peninsula Productions – is doing brilliant work, using her considerable expertise to create a dual role which adds a welcome touch of comedy to the piece.”
Peninsula Productions’ Studio Theatre is located at 14600 North Bluff Road, White Rock. For tickets and more details about “The Stranger,” call 604-536-8335 or visit showpass.com/the-stranger. Evening showtimes are 7 p.m., with additional 2 p.m. matinees on weekends.