My Cousin Rachel
By Daphne Du Maurier adapted by Joseph O’Connor.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, London TW9 1QJ to 8 February 2020.
Evenings 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 20 mins. One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7651.
Review: William Russell 4 February.
Handsomely staged this Theatre Bath touring production of Daphne Du Maurier’s famous page turner is the version created by Joseph O’Connor first seen in Dublin in 2012 to some acclaim. It has been handsome staged – there is a revolve and a stair case of Hollywood melodrama proportions for people to ascend and descend – and as the enigmatic Rachel of the title it has a well known TV face in the person of Helen George of midwifery fame. But the First Act drags along tediously until in Act two everything gallops to its tragic but open ended conclusion. Was Rachel a homicidal fortune hunter or a woman misunderstood doing what a mid Victorian woman with expensive tastes had to in order to survive by collecting husbands. A widowed Italian contessa she married the elderly and ailing Ambrose Ashley in Florence where he had gone to live for health reasons. His ward and heir Philip, a 25 year old innocent, who doted on his guardian, is suspicious, has received a letter from Ambrose alleging he is being poisoned, and decides Rachel is all that and more. Then Rachel comes to stay in the Gothic Cornish mansion on the top of a cliff – raging seas below and danger all around – in which the Ashleys live surrounded by loyal peasants and mine workers and doting retainers. One thing leads to another, Philip changes his mind and falls in love with Rachel, thus upsetting the plans of his godfather and lawyer who has a daughter in waiting for the role, and decides to do right by Rachel and make over the estate to her. He reckons she will marry him and he will manage it. Rachel says no, pointing out that he would get it all back as women had no rights and their property would belong to their husband. Then Philip starts to think he is being poisoned, which leads to one of those scenes where the suspicious tisane prepared by Rachel to cure the maladies the ill adjusted lad is suffering from, gets handed round and disposed of in handy places and never drunk. In the end we are left in doubt as to whether she was wicked or misunderstood.
Du Maurier’s novel is a page turner, but this dramatisation is turgid to say the least and Ms George fails to convince that she is a dangerous, exotic being from some alien world causing mayhem in the uptight all male household into which she intrudes. Italian she is not. There is a symbolic scene where she sets about designing a garden for the estate and produces exotic plants to be grown there. One film version added some explicit gay elements by making Ambrose gay, which explains the events in Florence, but little of that is made here, although the Ashley household with Philip at its centre is all male, the standard old nurse is an aged retainer, and the gardener handyman is suspiciously young, hunky and matey although both Philip and Rachel seem quite keen on him so who knows. In the end one simply does not care. Ms George is miscast and Jack Holden’s Philip is excessively petulant and silly, although he does add the missing frisson to it all by taking his short off in act two – in a tale which is all about sex and sexual frustration the coupling comes too late to save the day. There are the odd moments that work – the cast singing In the Bleak Midwinter at one point – and visually it is a treat. But in the end one wishes it would all move a lot faster so one could go home sooner.
Philip Ashley: Jack Holden.
John Secombe: Sean Murray.
Thomas Connors: John Lumsden.
Nicholas Kendall: Simon Shepherd.
Louise Kendall: Aruhan Galieva.
Rachel Coryn Ashley: Helen George.
GuidoRainaldi: Christopher Hollis.
Ensemble – Andy Hawthorne, Marco Young, Miranda Horn.
Director Anthony Banks.
Designer: Richard Kent.
Lighting Designer: David Plater.
Sound Designer & Composer: Max Pappenheim.
Fight Director: Alison de Burgh.
Accent & Dialect Coach: Elspeth Morrison.
Production photography: Manuel Harlan.