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My Cousin Rachel – Stella’s review

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I’d been looking forward to the opening night of My Cousin Rachel for weeks. My mother Nancy was a founder member of Saddleworth Players and no one would have been prouder than Nancy to know the theatre she and her friends had put so much love, care and time into for decades was not only thriving but attracting audience members from far and wide.

And this was no ordinary opening night. Although the weather was foul, we’d come to see the much touted refurbishment of Delph’s Millgate Centre. 160 brand new red and purple seats bearing patrons’ names. Nibbles and champagne. A sold out performance. Tours of the theatre conducted by members who’d been working for months on the stylish new auditorium. The air bristled with expectation.

My Cousin Rachel is a Victorian Gothic melodrama, based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier. Ably directed by Carol Davies and set in Barton, Cornwall in the late 19th century, the play tells the story of the young, handsome and tempestuous Philip Ashley, (Sam Reid), who inherits a Cornish manor following the sudden and mysterious death in Italy of his cousin and guardian Ambrose, just months after Ambrose’s equally sudden marriage to Rachel (Verity Mann), a distant relative with a scandalous reputation and dubious motives.

But who is the real Rachel?  A grieving widow, a manipulative gold digger, a femme fatale or a kind, generous friend and employer?

After just one evening in Rachel’s company, the naïve and sexually inexperienced Philip loses his heart but Louise Kendall (Kerry Ely) a close childhood friend of Philip’s is not so easily fooled. Wildly jealous and suspicious of the attention Rachel receives from Philip and her father Nicholas (Peter Fitton), Louise turns from a fun loving, feisty young woman into a whirlwind of feminine fury, lighting up the stage and admonishing Rachel for her outrageous behaviour in a duel of barbed and perfectly timed one-liners.

Verity Mann, bedecked in tight black corsets and widow’s veil offers up a consummate and elegant performance as the flirtatious and beautiful older woman Rachel, while Sam Reid is convincing as lovesick Philip, alternating between wild elation, childish self-importance and testosterone-charged rage.

Mark Rosenthal is resplendent as Rainaldi, Rachel’s larger than life Italian lawyer friend, while  Seacombe the long suffering butler (Neil Bamford) acts as a subtle foil to the main characters,  manhandling luggage, organising transport and serving up a steady stream of brandy, champagne and herbal tea. Max Fletcher provides a breath of fresh air as Seacombe’s cheeky underling James.

Sumptuous costumes, comic melodrama and a plot that twists and turns from romance to suspense and back again kept the appreciative audience entertained and guessing right up to the end and provided much fodder for conversation in the bar afterwards. Opening night nerves were in evidence with some stumbled dialogue, inaudible delivery and a few missed lines slowing the pace, but all in all a creditable performance by all members of the cast. 

Stella Woods

(Photos Stuart Coleman)

Author: editor

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