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Long, flat direction bypasses du Maurier classic

April 17, 2018

 

My Cousin Rachel, Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth, until April 21.

 

Dark, dramatic potential and teasing ambiguity are key factors of this play based on a classic 1950s novel by Daphne du Maurier.
Unfortunately, they are factors which are mostly missed in this largely inept production.
A brooding Cornwall estate provides the scene for what should be an intriguing clash of complex characters. It’s a romantic costume tale revolving around a question of murder, and physically the atmosphere is all there in a tastefully designed set by John Ellam.
But disappointment kicks in when it’s down to the supporting players to provide any sense of animation for more than half the play. Here the plaudits go to Colin Ritchie for his bluff, burly butler and John Francis as an affable guardian whose good nature becomes tested to the limit.
While they are achieving credibility as well as audibility, the principals are little more than muttering their lines. Hopefully, this aspect will improve, but Katie-Ann Campbell’s Rachel is more a petulant soap-opera heroine than the enigmatic woman of mystery the tale requires.
For Phil Spencer, the role of Philip Ashley, on a quest to uncover the truth of his relative’s death, only sparks into life later in the play when, somewhat ironically, his character becomes crippled and sick. This is where we are at last able to pick up something of the story’s real depth and the harsh, relentless light du Maurier shone on her characters.
While the dark mood has to be a dominating feature, the play demands a degree of pace to ensure its sense of nervy tension.

This is not achieved under Gill Bowser’s flat direction and the whole thing seems vastly over-long.

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