My Cousin Rachel
Diana Morgan & Daphne Du Maurier
29 Jun - 1 Jul 2011

As with many of Daphne Du Maurier’s stories, an atmosphere of tension and suspense is present from the outset  of ‘My Cousin Rachel’.The themes of love and mysterious deaths are closely interwoven, leaving the reader, or in this case, the audience, on a sort of see saw of belief and disbelief as they follow the twists and turns of a plot full of unanswered questions. Was Philip’s cousin, Ambrose murdered? Is Ambrose’s widow, Rachel a scheming, fortune hunting murderess or a grossly maligned woman?

In the Jubilee Players’ summer production, the dramatisation of this moody period piece was perfectly set and lit against the sombre scenery and furnishings of a gentleman’s Cornish country house. The costumes reflected the dark undertones of  the action as Rachel Ashley’s crinolines of black watered silk rustled across the stage and the dark morning coats of Philip Ashley and Nicholas Kendall added to the general air of melancholy and mystery. Occasional touches of colour reminded us that there was a more cheerful world outside Barton Manor House, especially the flamboyant clothes of Antonio Rainaldi, the Italian, and the pastel colours worn by Kendall’s young daughter, Louise . These highlighted her enthusiasm and obvious adoration of Philip, and showed clearly the contrast with the carefully controlled behaviour of the older, widowed Rachel.

The whole cast acted as a strong ensemble team under the confident direction of Rosalind Chamberlin. On the opening night there seemed to be none of the first night nerves often apparent in amateur productions and the well developed interaction between the characters meant that this audience member and those around me were totally absorbed in the tale as it unfolded.
James Groves was excellent as the young Philip, giving a convincing and moving portrayal of the mixture of anger, infatuation and confusion he felt towards Rachel. Hannah Groves’s characterisation as the poised and elegant cousin Rachel was a perfect foil for James’s performance as Philip. It is a great pleasure to see these two young members of The Jubilee Players continue to develop the range of their skills in each production they are in, be it pantomime, comedy or drama.

Alongside the central characters of Philip and Rachel, Paul  Skippings as the lawyer Nicholas Kendall and Michelle Jay as his daughter, Louise made impressive debuts on the Tithe Barn stage. Paul, in his first serious stage role, was convincing as the family lawyer and provided just the right element of frustrated but fatherly concern for Philip, while Michelle was quite charming as Kendall’s young daughter, unafraid to speak her mind and unable to hide her youthful passion for Philip.

Brian Lloyd and Steve Penwill as the faithful manservant and stable boy, made a great team, helping relieve the tension with well timed business and dialogue. Graham Brakenbry had the difficult task of making his first appearance quite late in the second half as the Italian, Antonio Rainaldi. All three actors provided excellent support and some occasional light relief for the four central characters in the story.
It is always a challenge to take on a period drama and everyone involved with this production should be congratulated for rising to that challenge so successfully.