Page last updated at 07:23 GMT, Friday, 16 April 2010 08:23 UK

Agatha Christie mystery gets 21st century debut

Chloe Newsome and David Michaels (Picture: Norman Weston)
The play is brand new adaptation of a short story from 1924

By Tim Masters
Entertainment correspondent, BBC News

An Agatha Christie play that hasn't been staged for more than three decades is being resurrected this week.

Love From A Stranger is one of Christie's lesser known whodunnits and is based on the 1924 short story Philomel Cottage.

A 1936 stage version by Frank Vosper spawned two films and two TV adaptations over the next 12 years.

Since then, it has languished in the archives, playing second fiddle to the likes of Murder On The Orient Express and The Mousetrap.

But a brand new version, by Louise Page, has opened at the Mill at Sonning theatre in Oxfordshire.

Agatha Christie in 1946
Born 1890 - died 1976
Wrote 80 crime novels and short story collections
Has sold more than 2 billion books worldwide
Eighth most-borrowed author in UK libraries
The 1937 film version of Love From A Stranger starred Basil Rathbone, shortly before he played Sherlock Holmes

"It is essentially a new play," says director Andy de la Tour.

"Unless you've ploughed through the entire Christie canon it's unlikely you will have come across this story before now."

De la Tour says that the 1930s stage play "departed enormously" from Christie's short story.

"Louise Page has gone right back to Agatha Christie's original and remained true to it. It's a better and more faithful stage version," he says.

In the story, frustrated spinster Alix King is swept off her feet by the mysterious Gerald Martin. But once they begin married life at Philomel Cottage their happiness soon begins to disintegrate.

'Genre queen'

The cast includes former Coronation Street actress Chloe Newsome (Alix), David Michaels (Gerald), Dido Miles, Peter Moreton and Struan Rodger.

The Agatha Christie estate has confirmed that the story hasn't been staged in the last 30 years.

"It's an intense psychological drama with very few characters," says de la Tour.

"It's mainly these two who've met and fallen in love and got married and moved into a little country cottage, and discover deep and dark secrets about each other.

"I bet 98% of the of audience will have no idea what's going to happen - which all adds to the suspense."

He describes Agatha Christie as "the queen of the genre - like or loathe her nobody comes close".

Chloe Newsome and David Michaels (Picture: Norman Weston)
Former Coronation Street actress Chloe Newsome stars with David Michaels

Chloe Newsome, who played Vicky McDonald in Coronation Street in the 1990s, already has several Christie plays under her belt.

"It's just happened that way," she says during a break in rehearsals.

"I don't think I'll be employed to do anything very modern - I have quite a period look about me."

She adds: "We've thrown quite a few curveballs in here. There will be a lot of times when you change your mind about who the villain is."

De la Tour says there was never a temptation to set the new version of the story in the modern day.

"The social habits of the 1930s and the expectations of what married life should be are so different," he says.

"If you were to set it in 2010 you would have to completely rethink that. I think you'd lose so much."

And he points out that modern communications don't mix well with classic whodunnits.

"With mobile phones and e-mails and pagers and Twitter and Facebook nobody is ever alone. A problem for writers of contemporary thrillers is that you can always get help.

"But if you're stuck in a cottage in the 1930s and there's not even a phone then you really are on your own."

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