Rachel was unengaging
My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier, The Jill Freud Company, Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until August 14 and transferring to St Edmunds Hall, Southwold, August 16 – 28.
THIS play about obsession and mistrust - based on Du Maurier’s novel of the same title - is adapted for the stage by Diana Morgan, and it presents serious challenges for any theatre company.
Philip Ashley is suspicious when his older cousin, Ambrose, marries a half-Italian woman - who also turns out to be a cousin - and then dies, possibly at her own hand. The wife, Rachel, does not inherit - because a new will was never signed - and eventually turns up at the Cornwall estate that has now passed into the hands of Philip.
He becomes infatuated with her, showering her with gifts. But all is not as it seems and tragedy lurks on the horizon.
There are some good individual performances - particularly from Mark Jackson, as the na�ve but increasingly mistrustful Philip, and Imogen Slaughter as the mysterious Rachel, a passionate woman who also arouses strong feelings from those around her.
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Antonia Christophers <correct> provided a good contrast in her role as the English rose, Louise - Philip’s long term friend and would-be sweetheart - while Clive Flint brought gravitas to the role of Nicholas, her father and Philip’s guardian.
Paul Mooney was convincing as Guido, Rachel’s shady Italian friend but I felt that the manservant, played by Terry Molloy, went too far down the road towards caricature.
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However, the script gives the actors limited help in developing characters, meaningful relationships and portraying convincing emotions while the story leaves the audience with more questions than answers.
Technically, the play is also very challenging. Exterior and dream sequences were played out with the help of upstage screen images and this was very successful. Maurice Rubens produced a stunning set complete with a long flight of stairs.
The choice of music seemed odd. Yes, Cornwall may have had more in common with both Brittany and Ireland in the period this play is set - the 1840s - but upbeat Celtic or Gaelic tunes did not seem to sit comfortably with the necessary Gothic atmosphere of this drama.
Jill Freud knows her audience well and anything by Daphne Du Maurier – most famous for her novel, Rebecca - is likely to fit the bill for summer theatre at Southwold and Aldeburgh.
However, despite the efforts of the cast and the director, Mark Sterling, and seemingly unlike at least the majority in the audience, I was not engaged by the play in its first night performance, especially during a lacklustre first half. The production will no doubt mature during its run.