THIS Theatre Royal Bath Production of Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘My Cousin Rachel’ adapted splendidly for the stage by Joseph O’Connor, is quite a theatrical shot in the arm.
Set in a sinister ancient house on a desolate tidal island off the Cornish Coast, this is gorgeous Gothic splendor from the get-go. Here lays a house where mystery lurks round every dark corner. The sea laps gently at times and fearsomely at others, blue skies turn to black, lightening strikes at appropriate times and sea mist hovers throughout.
The pièce de résistance of designer Richard Kent’s quite remarkable set is a huge revolve which takes a winding central staircase from the interior and turns it into an outdoor balcony overlooking the sea.
It is well known that Daphne Du Maurier wrestled with her sexuality throughout her life and this reflected in her creation of some of literatures most powerful females – I write of course of Rebecca as well as Rachel.
Birmingham School of Acting trained and ‘Call the Midwife’ star, Helen George is wonderful in the title role, to give her, her full title Rachel Coryn Ashley – aka the twice-widowed Countess Sangalletti. I didn’t know the story very well and am certainly not going to put a spoiler in here if you don’t know it how it all ends up either. Suffice it to say that George takes us splendidly on her journey from humble almost subservient beginnings – growing into a towering dominatrix, consuming all in her path.
George is well supported by Jack Holden as Philip Ashley as the ‘woe-is-me’ young man who is about to inherit the Cornish stately pile and travels his own journey from Rachel hate to Rachel love and back to hate again with the necessary melodramatic aplomb.
Simon Shepherd plays Ashley’s mentor and chum Nicholas Kendall who deftly handles his journey of dedication and doubt through to downright suspicion of dastardly deeds afoot. There is welcome comedic relief from the darkness in the form of Sean Murray as the old retainer John Seecombe and my special heads up is to Christopher Hollis as a splendidly camp Italian lawyer Guido Rainaldi who, much to Ashley’s annoyance, treats Rachel as his personal fag hag.
David Plater’s lighting design is deliciously spooky, with the sound composition by Max Pappenheim adding atmosphere in abundance. This production still has to grow to fill every crevice of the wondrous set and do Du Maurier’s wonderful words full justice, but I believe it is ultimately West End bound where it will reside comfortably for a long run
My Cousin Rachel runs at Malvern Theatres until Saturday.
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Review by Euan Rose.