Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

nick and rachel

Uncle Nick, Dominic Holmes talks to Rachel, Leanne Brown, with Robert Onions' Secombe looking on.

My Cousin Rachel

Grange Players

Grange Playhouse, Walsall


When it comes to thrillers Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel is a real slow burner as we are drip fed accusing details of the eponymous cousin before we finally meet her and then we are left to make up our own minds – and the mind can play some funny tricks, as we discover in the final, dramatic scene.

It all starts when Philip Ashley, played with his emotions on his sleeve by Gabriel Campbell, returns from Florence to his cousin Ambrose’s Barton estate in Cornwall in a mood that hardly does the word foul any sort of  justice.

It is not too much of a spoiler to reveal he had hot-footed it to Florence at the behest of Ambrose who was desperately ill with a fever and outlandishly delusional, either that or paranoid, with good reason . . . something for us to decide over the next couple of hours.

The problem is that in the mid 19th century Ambrose’s letter from Florence would be guaranteed delivery next . . . week? perhaps - while hot-footing to Florence from Cornwall would be perhaps just that, almost faster on foot.

So, Philip had arrived at Ambrose’s Italian villa to find he had had shuffled off his mortal coil some three weeks or so earlier – and his widow, Rachel, played demurely by Leanne Brown, had left for . . . we know not where . . . immediately after the funeral.

rachel and phil

Rachel sorts out Ambrose's belongings she has brought back from Florence watched by Gabriel Campbell's Philip

She was younger, her first husband had died in an accident, and had married Ambrose after a whirlwind romance some 18 months ago, and Ambrose, who moved to warmer climes each year to ease his rheumatism during the wet, cold British winters, had then decided he was going to stay in Florence.

Now her second husband had died in unusual circumstances, a brain fever, tumour or some such, potentially leaving her with a substantial fortune.

To say Philip was suspicious and angry gives understatement a bad name – he is apoplectic and, bully-like, takes it out on everybody else, particularly the put-upon servant Secombe, a lovely, understated performance from Robert Onions, along with his lumbering assistant James, played with some nice, surly comic touches by Adam Wyke.

Philip was taken in by his cousin Ambrose when a child after his parents died and his guardian and trustee, until he is 25 in a few month's time, is Nicholas Kendall, Uncle Nick, played by Dominic Holmes. someone to whom he confides his suspicions. Nick’s daughter, Louise, played by Louisa Vance, and Philip, are a sort of item in waiting . . . well, at least that’s what everyone expects to happen, and she certainly does. To her, it seems, it is predestined and only a matter of time.

Everything changes though when Rachel turns up on the doorstep, young, or at 35 younger than expected, attractive and not at all like a scheming serial killer specialising in husbands we had been warned about.

The relationship between Philip and Rachel, with the now feeling jilted Louise hovering in the background, ebbs and flows, with Philip showing both his bullying and nasty side as well as his infatuated, little boy lost look. What is true, what is a lie, what is even real is something for the characters . . . and we the audience, to decide as we go along with new revelations popping up at regular intervals..

Luise and Nick

Louise Kendall, played by Louisa Vance, and her father Nicholas Kendall, Uncle Nick.

Adding to the mix is Rachel’s Italian lawyer, Antonio Rainaldi, played by Raphael Lawrence, who, after a flamboyant start, settled into a passable Italian accent.

He arrives as Philip is wildly delusional and desperately ill with a fever. Coinicidence? . . . just saying.

And what about the inheritance, the future of the estate and a clutch of valuable jewels, where is that heading, and what is the significance of that very English feature, the sunken garden?

There is a lot to think about as we head to the inevitable final twist and a descent into the darker recesses of the mind – who’s mind we are talking about is something you will have to discover for yourself.

The cast tell the tale well, with a decent array of period costumes, and we see the changing attitudes, allegiances and suspicions clearly as the characters develop as the story evolves. Du Maurier didn’t write whodunits as such, hers are more about enigmatic figures you can never quite put your finger on, and suspicions you can never quite prove or confirm, and this follows the pattern. One to keep you guessing.

Stan Vigurs’ lighting was clever with oil lamps being blown out and lanterns lighting stairways as Philip passed, along with setting early morning, daytime and evening scenes while director Lynne Young and Joe Young created an authentic looking set - loved the high, wing backed leather chair by the way. Real 19th century gentleman’s club stuff.

Lynne’s direction keeps everything on track and brings out the emotions and layers underlying du Maurier’s plot to keep interest going. If there was a criticism, it was a lack of pace, especially in the seven scene changes which stalled any sign of momentum. Experience says though, that pace inevitably picks up once first nights are over.

The play, incidentally, was written the same year as the Grange Playhouse first opened its doors, has been chosen for the Grange’s 70th anniversary season – delayed a little by Covid. And 70 years on, this is still an intriguing tale of love, or maybe lust, inheritance, wealth and perhaps . . . or perhaps not . . . murder. To 19-03-22.

Roger Clarke


Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate