Gothic grandeur and murderous intrigue are kissing cousins in Theatre Royal Bath's adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's novel My Cousin Rachel – starring Call the Midwife's Helen George, and Casualty's Simon Shepherd – coming to Eden Court, Inverness for only Scottish dates
CHRISTMAS lights are twinkling above every street – and in every shop window – as the festive season begins in earnest.
Yet among the carol sessions and various pantomimes sweeping the stages of the Highlands, a theatrical adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s classic thriller My Cousin Rachel might not initially scream “’tis the season”.
However, not even the gothic grandeur of this production can hide the oncoming season. “We’ve got a Christmas scene in it so it’ll be very appropriate,” actor Simon Shepherd laughed.
“It’ll be rather beautiful – there’s snow and carols – there’s a lot of Christmas just before the interval. Just when you’re thinking, ‘has Christmas started?’ you’ll see it on stage!”
My Cousin Rachel brings the story of a small Cornish community shaken by the arrival of the titular Rachel – a European contessa and new wife of the estate’s owner – and the events and intrigues that build up around her and those in her orbit.
Philip, the ward and cousin of the estate owner, finds himself drawn to his guardian’s wife after the estate owner dies in mysterious circumstances – and a mystery builds up around whether Rachel is to blame.
Simon Shepherd – known to UK audiences already for long running stints in BBC’s Casualty and ITV’s Peak Practice – takes the role of Philip’s godfather Nick Kendall.
The tale has already proved fertile ground for adaptation before this theatrical effort. Since Du Maurier’s original novel was published in 1951, there have been TV and radio adaptations for the BBC as well as two films – one in 1952 starring Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland, and the most recent in 2017 starring Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin.
“Funny thing is that Roger Michell, who wrote and directed the most recent one with Rachel Weisz, is my oldest and best friend,” Simon recalled, before laughing. “And, well, he didn’t cast me in the film as Kendall, he cast Iain Glen!
“But, you know, I get to play Kendall at some point – we had laughed about it. He never casts me in anything!
“The last time he cast me was at school playing a middle aged cockney housewife. And I won the best actor competition, and I think he’s always been jealous secretly!”
Having his best friend also direct the film adaptation proved to be useful for Simon in preparing for this run of shows. “He’s a brilliant director, and so it’s been really useful and interesting for me to discuss the story and the arcs and the setting.
“It’s a really interesting setting, it’s a very masculine world that Du Maurier has written in Cornwall. I know she wrote it in ’51, but the actual setting is the 1850s.
“And it’s the story of an outsider coming into a very closed community that is basically misogynistic. And the production and Joseph O’Connor’s terrific script, they honour I think what she was trying to write.
Everything that’s happening in the world at the moment – in #MeToo terms and everything changing – it’s quite an interesting take on that.
Yet while the book was written in 1951 and set 100 years before that, Simon noted that there are several parallels between the story the book lays out and the present day. “Moments of it are quite modern in a strange way, but everything that’s happening in the world at the moment – in #MeToo terms and everything changing – it’s quite an interesting take on that.
“It’s a very modern take – this exotic European contessa comes into this tiny little community that is class-ridden in Cornwall, a very specific area in England. She didn’t set it in London.
“That’s what keeps it going – is she good or is she evil. And is she somebody who’s practically getting on with her life and making the best of it that she can? I think Joseph O’Connor’s done the book real justice, actually.
“The question that everybody is talking about afterwards is, ‘well, did she deserve it?’ And I’m not going to answer it, that’s what the play is about.”
My Cousin Rachel comes to Eden Court, Inverness from Tuesday and runs until Saturday, November 30. For full times/ticket prices, go to www.eden-court.co.uk