29th Oct 2018
Written by Diana Morgan
Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier
My Cousin Rachel is a tale of suspense and murder. Philip Ashley has travelled to Italy after he receives the news that his cousin Ambrose is seriously ill. He receives a number of letters that cast suspicion on Ambrose's new wife. When Philip arrives in Italy he discovers Ambrose has died and the funeral has already taken place. The new wife, Rachel, has disappeared.
The play opens as Philip returns to his home in Cornwall and has to recount the strange situation to his guardian Nicholas Kendall. While they wait for Philip, Nicholas and his daughter Louise discuss the sudden and surprising marriage between Ambrose and Rachel. Louise is sure that Rachel must be extraordinary and beautiful, since she managed to capture the heart of confirmed bachelor Ambrose Ashley.
Philip is convinced that the letters he received from Ambrose prove that his death is suspicious and that Rachel and her Italian friend Rainaldi are involved. Why else should she have left so suddenly after the funeral?
James Errington acquits himself well as the young Philip Ashley, seduced by the beauty of his older cousin Rachel, yet suspicious of her involvement in Ambrose's death. His performance gathers strength as the conflict pushes him to a kind of madness. Olivia Bowern is rather aloof as the grieving widow making the character difficult to read - which perhaps was the intention of the director. The play hinges on the doubt surrounding her - is she a cold blooded murderer or simply an unfortunate, misunderstood widow?
The outstanding performance of the evening goes to Stephanie Cubello whose playful portrayal of Louise Kendall provides the most engaging and convincing character in the play.
The drama and suspense is heightened throughout the play by an excellent choice of background music and very slick lighting.
The play has been likened to an Agatha Christie suspense - and the ingredients are there. A suspicious death, strange letters, a widow left with nothing, a naïve young man just ripe for manipulation by a beautiful, older woman and a small country village rife with rumour.
I'm sure Du Maurier's novel conveys all the expected tension and suspense, but for me it somehow doesn't translate into this stage adaptation by Diana Morgan. A lot of scene setting and background information has to be given through the dialogue and it lacked the flare and finesse of a Christie play, though it does have a killer twist at the end.
The audience this evening however was fully engaged and displayed appropriate amounts of surprise, shock and awe throughout - most notably when Philip, in a fit of rage, throws a candlestick which bounces back with some force! (I'd like to see more of this sort of passion from the actors - after all two of the characters are Italian!)
My Cousin Rachel plays until 3rdNovember. It has some excellent dramatic moments and some strong performances and it will keep you guessing - till the end.