Anthony Banks’ production of Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the most serious of stagings. But it is a surprising amount of fun.
Using Joseph O’Connor’s adaptation, the schlocky aspects of the tale are unashamedly ramped up. It has the feel of a nostalgic BBC Christmas period drama skirting the edges of a bodice-ripping pot boiler.
Jack Holden’s Philip Ashley is an awfully earnest young man desperate to prove his status as an astute gentleman once the titular Rachel arrives from Italy. His chest-pumped out attempts at masculinity are, however, severely watered down by his puppy dog charms.
Opposite him, Helen George plays Rachel Coryn Ashley as an uber flirtatious Victorian strumpet. Her performance isn’t exactly subtle, but serves as a reminder that this is how the closeted males of the aristocracy view her and how, in some ways, she might as well use those assumptions to her advantage.
Max Pappenheim’s sound design delivers on the dark and stormy night combination of howling winds and crackling fires. And Richard Kent’s revolving set is a greyscale gothic fortress, gradually invaded by feminine furnishings as Rachel seizes control.
There’s nothing especially ambiguous about this version of the story, but there is an unexpected heroine. Aruhan Galieva’s down to earth Louise Kendall is a robust counterpoint to Rachel’s flamboyance and Philip’s silliness. Her stoic sensibilities and patience throughout the obviously doomed situation ensure she is always enjoyable to watch, even in the harder to swallow moments.