Review: My Cousin Rachel

The cast of My Cousin Rachel

I’d been looking forward to the opening night of My Cousin Rachel for weeks. My mother Nancy was a founder member of Saddleworth Players and no one would have been prouder than Nancy to know the theatre she and her friends had put so much love, care and time into for decades was not only thriving but attracting audience members from far and wide.

And this was no ordinary opening night. Although the weather was foul, we’d come to see the much touted refurbishment of Delph’s Millgate Centre. 160 brand new red and purple seats bearing patrons’ names. Nibbles and champagne. A sold out performance. Tours of the theatre conducted by members who’d been working for months on the stylish new auditorium. The air bristled with expectation.

My Cousin Rachel is a Victorian Gothic melodrama, based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier. Ably directed by Carol Davies and set in Barton, Cornwall in the late 19th century, the play tells the story of the young, handsome and tempestuous Philip Ashley, (Sam Reid), who inherits a Cornish manor following the sudden and mysterious death in Italy of his cousin and guardian Ambrose, just months after Ambrose’s equally sudden marriage to Rachel (Verity Mann), a distant relative with a scandalous reputation and dubious motives.

But who is the real Rachel?  A grieving widow, a manipulative gold digger, a femme fatale or a kind, generous friend and employer?

After just one evening in Rachel’s company, the naïve and sexually inexperienced Philip loses his heart but Louise Kendall (Kerry Ely) a close childhood friend of Philip’s is not so easily fooled. Wildly jealous and suspicious of the attention Rachel receives from Philip and her father Nicholas (Peter Fitton), Louise turns from a fun loving, feisty young woman into a whirlwind of feminine fury, lighting up the stage and admonishing Rachel for her outrageous behaviour in a duel of barbed and perfectly timed one-liners.

Verity Mann, bedecked in tight black corsets and widow’s veil offers up a consummate and elegant performance as the flirtatious and beautiful older woman Rachel, while Sam Reid is convincing as lovesick Philip, alternating between wild elation, childish self-importance and testosterone-charged rage.

Mark Rosenthal is resplendent as Rainaldi, Rachel’s larger than life Italian lawyer friend, while  Seacombe the long suffering butler (Neil Bamford) acts as a subtle foil to the main characters,  manhandling luggage, organising transport and serving up a steady stream of brandy, champagne and herbal tea. Max Fletcher provides a breath of fresh air as Seacombe’s cheeky underling James.

Stella Woods

My Cousin Rachel’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre from 28 September to 5 October. Tickets are available online from our booking site or from the box office at Delph Library (Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm). The box office telephone number is 01457 874644.

Seecombe, the long-devoted servant

Hello, I’m Neil and I’ve been asked to play Seecombe, the long-devoted servant to the Ashley Family.

“It seems only yesterday when all was well at Barton. Phillip Ashley was a mite not two years old when he first came to Barton, and this has been my privilege and my pleasure to see him come of age.

The news of Mr Ambrose Ashely’s sudden death in Florence, Italy, means that Mr Phillip is now our new master of Barton, and he will need some time to settle in.  He is guided by his guardian Uncle Nick (Mr Kendall), oldest friend of Ambrose Ashley.

Master Phillip meanwhile has gone off to Florence and has been gone sometime; we do expect him back any day now. It’s been such a time here at Barton, the news of Master Ambrose’s death left us all in such a shock.  Now I hear Mr Ambrose’s wife, is coming Here. Life at Barton is about to change forever.” Seecombe.

This is my second time here with Saddleworth players; I am enjoying the opportunity to be part of such a well-run company, a team of dedicated actors, a fantastic set, great lighting, excellent sound, some very dedicated props staff, and a very posh auditorium – all this under the ever watchful eye of Carol Davies, the director. Thank you.

My Cousin Rachel’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre from 28 September to 5 October. Tickets are available online from our booking site or from the box office at Delph Library (Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm). The box office telephone number is 01457 874644.

Nick Kendall’s blog (by Peter Fitton, written in character!)

Peter Fitton plays Nick Kendall in My Cousin Rachel.

We were all knocked sideways by the death of my old friend Ambrose Ashley, hundreds of miles away in Italy. I’m guardian to Philip, the young heir to the Ashley estate and he went haring off to Florence when he received word of his cousin’s serious illness. Ambrose had only recently met his cousin Rachel out there, a great beauty, by all accounts, and married her in weeks. Naturally we were all agog to meet this mysterious creature, particularly since Ambrose was such a confirmed bachelor. But now all this! Philip is returned and my spirited young daughter Louise has been bending my ear to learn the full tragic story from the lad. What she doesn’t yet know is that Ambrose’s widow has contacted me by letter and we may, all three of us, be encountering the alluring Rachel sooner than we imagined. I, for one, find the prospect highly intriguing!

‘My Cousin Rachel’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre from 28 September to 5 October. Tickets are available online from our booking site or from the box office at Delph Library (Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm). The box office telephone number is 01457 874644.

Being naïve Philip Ashley

Samuel Reid plays Philip Ashley in My Cousin Rachel

Hi! I’m Sam and I’m playing the part of Philip in My Cousin Rachel, the first play of the new season here at Millgate. It’s my fifth play here with Saddleworth Players, the most recent of which was Incorruptible in June. I’m so excited to be treading the boards for the first play in front of the new seats in the auditorium!

One of the great aspects of this play is the “did she, didn’t she” question, which is true to the original Du Maurier novel. We in the cast have spent most of the rehearsal period speculating and arguing about it – I’m personally of the opinion that Du Maurier has deliberately made most of the evidence against Rachel circumstantial, rather than conclusively direct evidence. I suppose we must presume innocence until proven guilty!

Philip, on the other hand, is a much more transparent character. Philip’s motives and behaviour are quite easy to interpret but I’ve really enjoyed finding subtext and hidden meanings in the script with this particular play. I think he means well but he’s far too unworldly and naïve to be a match for Rachel. And yet again, I’m playing a young man seduced by an older woman! Maybe I’m becoming typecast . . .

I hope you enjoy the play as much as I’ve enjoyed being Philip. I think it’s a wonderful adaptation!

‘My Cousin Rachel’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre from 28 September to 5 October. Tickets are available online from our booking site or from the box office at Delph Library (Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm). The box office telephone number is 01457 874644.

Playing Louise, the excitable girl-next-door

Hi, my name is Kerry. This is my first play with The Saddleworth Players and what a play to jump in with! I’m really enjoying playing Louise, the excitable girl-next- door who is forgotten by Philip when the mature and exotic Mrs. Ashley comes to stay at Barton Manor. Louise is sweet and innocent to begin with, but her jealousy of Rachel Ashley brings out the worst in her character; she is taken in by gossip and believes the absolute worst about her.

The more I dissect the play the stronger my conviction is that Rachel Ashley is guilty…then I change my mind to not guilty. It’s so well written it will have audiences guessing about Mrs. Ashley’s actions for a long time after seeing it.

Over the past few years I’ve enjoyed playing at Droylsden Little Theatre, Hyde Festival Theatre, Oldham Lyceum, Upper Mill Society and in the Manchester Fringe Theatre scene. Most recently I’ve been filming for an episode of ‘Judge Rinder’s Court Room Drama’s’ for ITV.

I love theatre and acting. I’m really grateful for this opportunity to be performing with a lovely group so dedicated to putting on amazing shows. I’m already feeling nervous about opening night!

‘My Cousin Rachel’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre from 28 September to 5 October. Tickets are available online from our booking site or from the box office at Delph Library (Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm). The box office telephone number is 01457 874644.

Steam Punking up Cornish Victorian

Characters from ‘My Cousin Rachel’ in steampunk costume.

In looking back over our last Season, I realised that all the plays had been costume dramas, taking us from Medieval France, 17th Century London, the 1930s, to the 1950s. We are very fortunate in having a huge (and packed) costume store which provides most of what we need, with some hectic bouts of sewing to supplement it. When we first looked at My Cousin Rachel, we were unsure where to place it in time. It is written as a Victorian Gothic Thriller, but it could easily have been Edwardian, or 1920s / 30s. Not wanting to have to repeat the sweat shop conditions that churned out the many, many Playhouse Creature costumes, the temptation was to see what fitted, and set it in that era. Cheating I know, but with the costume store used as temporary housing for bits of boiler and lighting moved during the auditorium refurbishment there was no way to get to the clothing rails for the whole of the Summer.

Then, quite by chance, a friend mentioned going over to Hebden Bridge for a Steampunk festival. For those not in the know, Steampunk is a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery. Think modern day Jules Verne. From this has developed a whole fashion cult which combines Victoriana with anachronistic touches. The Victorian silhouette is turned into something altogether more daring and ‘punky’ with short skirts, corsets worn over clothing, and accessories that feature cogs, wheels, clocks, safety pins etc. etc. This is perfect for us, given that some of our dresses are a little worst for wear, and, invariably, tiny. We now don’t need to spend time adding panels and darning; we can simply deconstruct them and hold them back together with belts and safety pins!

As for the men – they get to accessorise their look with buckles, chains, watches and goggles. Much more fun than regular costumes, when all they get to do is fight over the diminishing store of matching cufflinks. Note to self – must make some Steampunk cufflinks.

We are hoping that the slightly unreal costumes add to the distorted reality of this psychological thriller. We’re not aiming to distract, and so are veering away from the more outlandish creations (and I did so want a lace ra-ra skirt!). But, let me tell you, we are having so much fun! What better way to fill a wet September morning than with a bag of keys and clock faces and a glue gun? Which reminds me, if you’re tempted to release your inner Steampunk creative, or possibly just like ironing – join the drop-in Costume Group on Wednesday mornings in the Green Room between 10am and 12.

‘My Cousin Rachel’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre from 28 September to 5 October. Tickets are available online from our booking site or from the box office at Delph Library (Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm). The box office telephone number is 01457 874644.

Did she or didn’t she? You decide

Verity Mann plays Rachel Ashley in ‘My Cousin Rachel’.

Hi, I’m Verity and I’ll be playing Rachel Ashley in our first play of the Season ‘My Cousin Rachel’ by Diana Morgan. It’s a gothic drama based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier, and I’m thrilled that we are bringing it to the stage. Daphne du Maurier is one of my all time favourite writers. Her prose is beautifully crafted but she is also gifted in bringing complex characters to life, and gently bringing about plot twists that leave you wondering who actually are the good and bad guys. Your loyalties are called into question and, as in real life, supposedly ‘bad’ people are capable of acts of genuine love and compassion and ‘good’ people can ultimately lose sight of their moral compass.

Throughout the play, opinions constantly change about Rachel. She is seen as a scheming murderess, a broken hearted widow, a generous hostess, a temptress, a liar, a loving friend, a victim of circumstance. She is caught, trying to make her way in a world where your face is your fortune, your independence limited and your wealth provided and controlled by your husband. Just how far she takes matters into her own hands is a matter of great debate.

It is a gift of a part for an actor, and I am very much looking forward to you meeting her. Hopefully we’ll meet in the bar at the end, over a herbal tea, and you can let me know your verdict on her innocence or guilt.

‘My Cousin Rachel’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre from 28 September to 5 October. Tickets are available online from our booking site or from the box office at Delph Library (Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm). The box office telephone number is 01457 874644.

‘My Cousin Rachel’ – Director Preview by Carol Davies

Carol Davies, Director of My Cousin Rachel

Our first play of the season is ‘My Cousin Rachel’ by Diane Morgan adapted from the novel by Daphne de Maurier. She wrote many well-known novels ‘Jamaica Inn’, ‘Frenchmans Creek’ ,’Rebecca’ all made into successful films. You may know Hitchcock‘s film ‘The Birds’ and the seventies horror film ‘Don’t Look Now’ with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. Both of these were stories written by Daphne du Maurier. She tells a good story and is notorious for her endings.

‘My cousin Rachel’ is an innocuous sounding title – cosy endearing warm. It is none of those things. Set in Cornwall this is a play about obsession – a psychological thriller that challenges the audience’s sympathies. An excellent storyteller like du Maurier, deserves an excellent cast and we have that. When you come to see the show in the Autumn, you will, like audiences and readers over the last 60 years be left to decide whether cousin Rachel is a vulnerable, misjudged widow or a villainess.

Carol Davies is directing My Cousin Rachel 28th September – 5th October. Tickets £9 www.millgateartscentre.co.uk

Making a fool of myself

Hi! My name’s Sam and I’m portraying the role of Jack in this upcoming production of Incorruptible. My most recent role here at Millgate was Branwell last summer in “We Are Three Sisters”, and you might also have seen me in Great Expectations and The Graduate. It was with great excitement that I agreed to don the motley and an eyepatch for this play and make a fool of myself again!

Jack’s a fascinating and challenging guy to play and I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to play around with his role during this last week of rehearsals. You’ll find that Jack is often switching quickly between the minstrel “showman” and a more complex and thoughtful human being with real motives and feelings. Trying to convey this side of Jack whilst also keeping up the confident entertainer means that I have to be on my toes all the time to make sure that the right tone is struck as the events of the play unfold. He’s certainly very different to the parts I’ve been cast in previously!

I think it’s fair to say that Jack ultimately gets a happy ending but probably not in the way he would expect. You’ll have to come and see to get the whole story!

The Thrill of Love: Review

Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be hanged in Britain in 1955 at the age of 28. Amanda Whittington’s story gives the audience a glimpse into Ellis’s life leading up to her being convicted of killing her lover David Blakely and the injustices surrounding her trial and execution. As the Director Sue Stephenson states in her notes in the programme, there would have been a very different outcome had the crime had been committed today.

Being involved in my own production of this play at the moment, I was interested in seeing how another Society would tackle the complexities surrounding the technical content as well as ensuring the fluidity of the action, which the author specifically specifies. I need not have worried, as the action flowed seamlessly from scene to scene with the help of the very talented cast.

There was a great atmosphere pre-show from the music of Billie Holiday which led the audience directly into the action of the play. The setting of the stage worked well and the actors used the space available to great effect. There were very few static moments which made the action engaging to watch throughout.

Technically, I was extremely impressed with the complex sound effects used, which added great atmosphere to the play. The lighting perhaps could have been a little more atmospheric at times but this did not detract from the overall success of the production.

Under the guidance of Sue Stephenson, the audience were treated to excellent performances from all 5 actors; Rachael Mayor (Ruth Ellis), Phil Clegg (Jack Gale), Sylvia Shaw (Alison Bowers), Ruth Wilde (Vickie Martin) and Emma Sykes (Doris Judd). The characterisation was first class as the actors journeyed their way through the play offering the audience pathos, drama and some humour along the way.

Congratulations to all involved. Hope you continue to have a successful and enjoyable run.

See Saddleworth Players perform The Thrill of Love at the Millgate Arts Centre, Delph, until Saturday 6 April. Tickets from our booking site.

Carla Stokes