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

A relative case of suspicion

cast of my cousin rachel

Suspicious families: Maurice Felton as Seecombe (top left), Jane Williams as Louise, David Hutchins as Philip, and Robert Gotch as James, David Hutchins as Philip (front left) Karen Whittingham as Rachel and Philip Sheffield as Antonio

My Cousin Rachel

Dudley Little Theatre, Netherton Arts Centre


PHILIP was orphaned at seven and was brought up by his cousin Ambrose with the pair living a bachelor life, running a large Cornish estate outside Bodmin.

Then Ambrose falls ill and needs to spend winters in warmer climes so off he goes to Florence where he meets and marries another cousin Rachel and i this case they don't all live happily ever after.

In fact, he falls gravely sick and writes to Philip claiming dirty deeds afoot involving Rachel; so Philip hotfoots it over there to find Ambrose has shuffled off his mortal coil.

Thus the scene is set for Daphne Du Maurier’s 19th century tale of intrigue, mystery and romance on the Barton estate in Du Maurier’s beloved Cornwall.

Throw in enough red herrings to stock a fishmonger, a bit of sex – much cheered by an enthusiastic audience – a mysterious will, an attractive widow and a dodgy Italian visitor and the plot thickens even further.

Philip Ashley, pockets stuffed with letters from his now dead cousin Ambrose pointing accusing fingers at his wife, Rachel, returns from Florence with his sad news to find Ambrose’s widow, cousin Rachel is already in Cornwall, staying just down the road., and his guardian, and Godfather, Nicholas Kendall, insists that Rachel is now family and must be invited to stay at Barton Hall at the heart of the estate, so let the drama commence,

Rachel is attractive with the added allure of an Italian accent, which Karen Whittingham, to her credit, keeps both convincing and consistent throughout. And Whittingham manages to keep us guessing from her first appearance as to whether she is a hard-nosed, scheming, foreign gold-digger or a much maligned grieving widow, offering us clues and hints in both directions.

Philip, at 24 and 11 years her junior, is more of a serious chap, hardly a barrel of laughs and David Hutchins gives us an intense young man whose head tells him to be wary of a murderess but his intellect is outvoted by his heart . . . and bits lower down . . . in a performance displaying an impetuous young man driven more by passion than reason.

Kendall, Uncle Nick, in the capable hands of Dudley stalwart Frank Martino, is the very epitome of the wealthy, kindly guardian, looking after the affairs of a nephew. He has a quiet, avuncular authority and exudes a quiet confidence that all is well with his world, which makes it quite a shock for him when he eventually finds it isn't.


Then there is his daughter, Louise, played demurely by Jane Williams, a sweet young thing with a somewhat indeterminate relationship with Philip. Is she merely a friend? Was there an assumption of something more? Does the arrival of Rachel mean a love triangle? Or will Louise lose out as Philip’s head be turned by the appeal of a Latin lover? Again we are left unsure.

Fussing around in the background is the butler Seecombe in a performance which grows on you from Maurice Felton. He appears rather ineffectual at first but it is a nicely measured performance introducing some well-timed humour, with a lovely exchange about place settings with the servant James, played by Robert Gotch and showing enough to deserve a future larger part.

A late entrant is Antonio Rainaldi who appears in the second act played with an air of Latin flamboyance by Philip Sheffield. He is supposedly a friend of Rachel’s from Florence but seems to have the more important dramatic purpose of muddying the waters for the audience, drawing out more of Rachel’s past, and more importantly, her thoughts.

While the human drama unfolds we have clues scattered through the plot like currents in a bun. There is the tale of a spouse poisoned in Italy, and Rachel’s order of highly poisonous laburnum seeds, supposedly for the sunken garden she is creating.

Then there is the tisane she prepared for Ambrose – he died remember – which she persuades Philip to drink on a daily basis. Then Philip falls gravely ill – laburnum seeds, tisane, ill, dead . . . see a pattern forming here?

We have Ambrose’s will, Philip’s coming of age when he should inherit the family pile at 25, the famed Ashley Collar of pearls loved by Rachel – and the danger of the sunken garden.

There is a twist at the end - which is well signposted in the final scene – but that gets a clever second twist to add to the suspense and ensures living happily ever is not an immediate option as we reach the dramatic end.

The set team have managed a good, solid period set which even has an upstairs and full marks to Antonio, or Philip Sheffield in his day role, who was responsible for some excellent period costumes for both male and female characters as well as wigs, a realistic black for Rachel and lovely period ringlets for Louise..

A mention too for prompt Jenny Stanley on the few occasions she was called upon. She was clear an in quickly which is much better than whispering so no one can hear, including the unfortunate actor, and hoping no one will notice

If there is a fault it is with pace which is the piece more than the production. Director Prue Warne has done her best to keep things moving along - although shorter scene changes on what is a single set would help the flow plus the pace of a piece always picks up once the first night is out of the way and a play finds its rhythm . But Diana Morgan’s adaptation is a tad wordy and ponderous leaving the cast with a lot of dialogue to learn in 19th century style, not the easiest task, and one they managed well to create an interesting drama which develops well and holds its climax right to the final scene. To 14-03-15

Roger Clarke


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