A real Cornish rollercoaster

TAUT, tense, and more turns than a Southend rollercoaster. The Wanstead Players chose Daphne du Maurier s thriller My Cousin Rachel for their latest foray on to the Kenneth More Theatre Stage last week. A strong ensemble, under the tight direction of Juli

TAUT, tense, and more turns than a Southend rollercoaster.

The Wanstead Players chose Daphne du Maurier's thriller My Cousin Rachel for their latest foray on to the Kenneth More Theatre Stage last week.

A strong ensemble, under the tight direction of Julian White, made for an exciting production, with the plot twists coming thick and fast.

Like Rebecca, this is a romantic thriller set in a fabled family home in the south east of England. The characters all keep secrets - and lies, suspicion and misunderstandings abound.


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The plot: Philip Ashley has been brought up by his cousin Ambrose on the family's Barton Hall estate in Cornwall. While travelling abroad, Ambrose marries another cousin, Rachel, the impecunious widow of an Italian count. But Ambrose dies soon afterwards, and Rachel returns to Barton Hall.

Philip, an impressionable and passionate 25-year-old, soon falls for the mysterious double widow. But before long he begins to believe that she may have killed Ambrose in order to inherit the estate.

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This builds up a terrible dramatic tension, which slowly and skilfully ratchets upwards until the fatal denouement.

I enjoyed Sean Ryan's oft-bewildered Philip; this was a well nuanced performance that played well with Deborah Peck's spirited Rachel.

Together, these characters form the main axis of the play and these were two strong portrayals.

It is important for the audience to believe, with Philip, that Rachel has done wrong, and Deborah managed to inject the right note of apparent malice, while Sean radiated waves of suspicion about the object of his passion.

There was another watchable performance from Peter Wilson as Philip's well-meaning but conflicted godfather Nicholas, who worries when his ward makes over the entire estate to Rachel.

Sarah Jones began her portrayal of Nicholas' daughter Louise in a low-key way, but her character appropriately became more animated as the action progressed.

Spencer Simmons was good as Rachel's dandyish - and possibly scheming - friend Antonio and Bob Hutt did a terrific job as the servant Seecombe.

There were moments in this dialogue-heavy piece when an individual actor, apparently under pressure from the need to maintain the pace and tension, would appear to briefly abandon their stage persona, but these moments were fleeting and did not affect the action or the drama.

- SUE LEEMAN

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