My Cousin Rachel

Diana Morgan from the novel by Daphne du Maurier
Nottingham Theatre Royal
(2006)

Two years ago, when reviewing The Ghost Train in the annual Classic Thriller Season at the Theatre Royal, I remarked how Colin McIntyre's company had improved. Gone were the days of using actors simply because they were available for the four-week season or cheap. Instead the company recruited several actors who had worked together on other projects and put them with thriller-season veterans.

However, this year the company seems to have taken a backward step. If My Cousin Rachel is anything to go by, the actors persist in over-acting despite having a fine if somewhat wordy play at their disposal.

Admittedly it must be difficult for the company performing one play and at the same time rehearsing the following week's production, but there's little excuse for actors getting wrong the names of the characters they're addressing, or for sound effects of people arriving in a carriage continuing long after they've appeared on stage.

My Cousin Rachel is based around the experiences of Philip Ashley. Orphaned at an early age, he's brought up by his uncle Ambrose. While travelling in Italy, Ambrose falls in love, marries and then suddenly dies in suspicious circumstances. When Ambrose's widow Rachel turns up in England, Philip is immediately attracted to her. The play explores whether Rachel might have had a hand in Ambrose's death.

McIntyre directs My Cousin Rachel himself and must take most of the blame for the fact that the production lacks tension, intensity and pace.

The eight actors in the company have to be versatile because of the differing roles they adopt during the four plays - but your imagination has to work overtime during My Cousin Rachel. For instance, matronly Samantha Sanns gives her all as Rachel but it's difficult to imagine her as a femme fatale who captivates men of all ages.

Similarly, Mark Hayden appears too mature to play young, headstrong Philip Ashley who falls helplessly in love with his cousin. However, his performance towards the end when he suffers the torment of knowing he has lost Rachel is commendable.

The best performances come from two of the characters who appear for the shortest amount of time. Thriller Season stalwart Andrew Fettes gives his customary impressive display, being very comfortable as the mysterious Italian Antonio Rainaldi. And Adrian Lloyd-James is superb as the insolent, incorrigible, bumbling old servant. He took over due to Maggie Stables' being unable to play Mrs Secombe; the transition was so seamless you could easily imagine the part was written for a man.

I enjoyed John Hester's portrayal of Nicholas Kendal, the strict father-figure who becomes besotted by Rachel's charms, and Corinne Handforth as his caring, jealous daughter Louise.

But on the whole the production lacks the sparkle and energy which you expect from a classic thriller.

The Classic Thriller season continues until September 2nd

Reviewer: Steve Orme