REVIEW: My Cousin Rachel at Cambridge Arts Theatre - Helen George intrigues as the beautiful deceiver

PUBLISHED: 09:46 14 January 2020 | UPDATED: 16:31 14 January 2020

Helen George in My Cousin Rachel at Cambridge Arts Theatre. Picture: MANUEL HARLAN

Helen George in My Cousin Rachel at Cambridge Arts Theatre. Picture: MANUEL HARLAN

Archant

Helen George hits just the right note in My Cousin Rachel to leave us wondering at the end whether she was, after all, a wronged woman.

Helen George hits just the right note in My Cousin Rachel to leave us wondering at the end whether she was, after all, a wronged woman.

As in Daphne du Maurier's story, Rachel appears to be a fortune-hunter, a manipulator of men - or is she just so irresistably attractive that they can't help begging her on their knees to accept their estates and all their wealth?

The arguments are made both ways. Two husbands have died in Italy in strange circumstances. Her latest one, Ambrose writes to his young cousin Philip that Rachel is poisoning him and that nothing satisfies her but money.

But then we are told Ambrose is, at the time, dying of a brain tumour and not in his right mind.

The lad Philip (an outraged Jack Holden) is determined to loathe Rachel when she arrives at the family estate in Cornwall, where Ambrose was mother and father to him.

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But, in an unfolding change of personality, we see that Philip, too comes to love her above all else.

The story is set in Victorian England when married women could not own property. Anything owned by single women or widows went to their husbands on the instant of marriage. Rachel, with a wonderfully elegant, yet flirtatious, demeanour from Helen George, protests that she wants nothing from him while offering Philip cups of suspicious herbal tea.

George's Rachel has a darling way of engaging the starchiest of men. When she is asked, by the family lawyer (Andy Hawthorne) to remove the family pearls that Philip gives her for Christmas - she bows her head so as they are unfastened they fall into her hand, and then, cupping the lawyer's hand gently in hers, she slides the necklace into it, making coy eyes at him.

This is a fine, ensemble production with excellent support from Sean Murray and John Lumsden as the Cornish servants John and Tom and from Aruhan Galieva as Philip's feisty childhood friend Louise, a nice girl who sees through Rachel from the start with some pert, catty exchanges between them.

Christopher Hollis has a strong cameo role as Guido Rainaldi, Rachel's Italian visitor who seems too rude and unsubtle to get away with being baddie, but then, you never know.

With humour and some rather good singing at one point, the play never descends into farce or melodrama and is intriguing until the end.

Cousin Rachel continues to be an enigma. Families -eh?

My Cousin Rachel is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, January 18.

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