DAPHNE du Maurier’s tense dramatic novel My Cousin Rachel has twice been filmed and staged in various adapations countless times.
Now a new version by Joseph O’Connor and directed by Anthony Banks comes to Bath Theatre Royal, at the start of a national tour. Without curtains, the audience is first confronted with an atmospheric set – a grand room from which steps sweep up to a tower, overlooking a rocky Cornish sea – designed by Richard Kent.
There a dishevelled young man recounts the haunting childhood memory of a body seen on a gibbet. He is Philip Ashley, nephew and heir to Ambrose Ashley, a confirmed bachelor who had confounded expectations and married a glamourous Italian contessa, before his sudden death.
The distraught Philip is convinced that the new and foreign wife is responsible for his beloved uncle’s death, and when his godfather Nick announces her arrival in Cornwall, he is horrified and hostile.
But “cousin Rachel” is like no woman he has ever met, and before long his resolve is weakened and he begins to see her as victim rather than villain.
The wonderful thing about du Maurier’s story is that you NEVER know which is true, even at the last dramatic moment.
Helen George, best known as Nurse Trixie in Call the Midwife, gives an elegantly multi-faceted performance in the title role. Is Rachel a magnificent actress or a woman trying to find her place in life after the death of the man she truly loved?
Bristol Old Vic Theatre School graduate Jack Holden is the intensely conflicted Philip, with Simon Shepherd as his honourable godfather and Aruhan Galieva as his loyal daughter Louise. Sean Murray and John Lumsden capture the blind loyalty of the family servants, and Christopher Hollis has all the brio of the enigmatic Guido – tediously self-important lawyer … or cherished lover?
The mysteries wind through the story as fake news inflames passions, only to be neutralised by very different interpretations. The story is compellingly unravelled in this taut production, performed by a terrific company.
Photographs by Manuel Harlan