BWW Review: MY COUSIN RACHEL, Richmond Theatre
Daphne Du Maurier's 1951 novel My Cousin Rachel is a dark, psychological thriller that focuses on jealousy, female sexual power and control over men. It was made into a moderately successful film in 2017 starring Rachel Weiss and then adapted for the stage. It ends its nationwide tour at Richmond theatre this week on a rather weak note.
Countess Rachel Sangalletti arrives at the Ashley Estate in Cornwall, having travelled from Florence following the death of her husband Ambrose. Ambrose has left his estate to his young cousin Philip, but Rachel's arrival throws up many questions surrounding the true nature of Ambrose's death. Philip quickly becomes infatuated by Rachel and eager to discover what her true intentions are.
The Richmond shows come at the end of the play's tour and it seemed that the cast was a little fatigued. Helen George, best known for her role in TV's Call The Midwife, plays Rachel; she is both charming and imperious. She has a strong stage presence, but the decision to portray her Italian origins with a cut-glass English accent, scattered with some awkwardly placed Italian words is clumsy.
Jack Holden plays the naive Philip, switching quickly between lust and distrust for Rachel. Holden has a sweet innocence and is good at portraying the confusion he feels for his mysterious cousin. Simon Shepherd has calm and balanced presence as Philip's mentor Nicholas, with Christopher Hollis providing welcome light relief as the charismatic lawyer Guido Rainaldi.
The book has wonderful potential as a play, due to its subtle suggestion, clever ambiguity and gothic tension. Adapted by novelist Joseph O'Connor, the play remains faithful to the book, but the script lacks some nuance with Rachel cast squarely as suspicious, mainly because she is a woman and because she acts in her own self-interest. Du Maurier said that she never decided if Rachel was guilty or innocent, but the production lacks the same ambiguity. It also lacks some emotional heft and there is a struggle to become invested in the characters or their internal conflicts.
Director Anthony Banks has plenty of experience with providing tense productions, having directed The Girl on the Trainand Strangers on a Train. Here there is a distinct lack of tension, with the atmosphere of doubt and suspicion rather flat. It doesn't help that the first half of the production is overly-long and lacks pace. A Christmas scene where there is a full rendition of "In The Bleak Midwinter" feels indulgent and unnecessary to the plot.
However, Designer Richard Kent has done a brilliant job and the production looks wonderful, using a detailed, rotating set to portray the family's estate, the rugged Cornish coastline and the interior of the house. David Plater's lighting is a brilliant compliment to this and atmospherically shows mist coming in from the sea, stormy skies and soft candlelight.
Overall, My Cousin Rachel feels like a missed opportunity; with potential that never feel fully exploited. The production looks beautiful, but lacks depth.
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan