Interview with Marty Rea and Hannah Yelland | My Cousin Rachel
Words: Aoife Ryan
The Gate's production of Daphne Du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel has been revived following its sell-out success earlier this year. In this mystery-romance, life on the Ambrose country estate in Cornwall is changed forever after a distant Italian relative comes to visit. Peace is disrupted by secrecy, longings and even death as this mysterious woman weaves her way into the thoughts of the English men. Adapted by novelist Joseph O'Connor, the play stars Marty Rea and Hannah Yelland, who spoke to Aoife Ryan .
Are you happy to be performing in The Gate?
Marty: I love performing at The Gate. I love the auditorium and stage and the space overall with its many subtleties. It's such a lovely space because it's very intimate. It's a much easier place to perform than many others. It's difficult to get used to at the beginning but it's worth it.
Hannah: It's that balance between wanting to reach the back wall while maintaining the intimacy. There are so many delicate moments and deep relationships with lots of complexities in the play. Particularly with this piece, the audience audibly respond which is always quite a nice feeling, to know they are so involved and into it.
What is My Cousin Rachel really about?
Hannah: It's a difficult play to encapsulate. It's a suspenseful, gripping story set in old England-
Marty: charged with sex and intrigue-
Hannah: It's a passionate piece and it's very funny. Bosco Hogan and John Cronin playing the servants in the house have great warmth as characters who comment on the others in the house who are at each others throats. That stays true to the book. Rachel is very witty. Sometimes female characters in her position can be very staid but she's not at all. She has a flirtatiousness and cheekiness that is really wonderful. And it's a fantastic story to see at Christmas. It's not your usual Dickens but it has got that Winteriness feel to it while retaining its seriousness as a play.
How has Joseph O'Connor's adaption of the play made it unique and separate from the novel?
Marty: Joe is a huge Daphne Du Maurier fan and he has brilliantly encapsulated the atmosphere of the book. When you're adapting a novel for the stage you always have to pick a line through it and go with it and many other things will be cut. Things have to be given up or played smaller than in the book. You have to edit so much. The feeling of it is perfect though
Hannah: There are jumps in the book which are hard to adapt to stage, like when Rachel's been in the house for a month, but you just have to go with it. I think ultimately it works. The perfect balance has been captured, where you are left wondering if this woman is a seductress or a wife mourning her husband.
Would you liken it to a TV costume drama or is it totally different?
Hannah: If you love the Downtown Abbeys of TV drama you'll love this because it is a Victorian costume drama with a wonderful story and great characters but I do think theatre is more exciting. It has the advantage of keeping the audience close to its characters from start to finish. You can't pause live theatre.
Is it harder to relate to these characters than say those from a more modern era? Are the costumes and prop designs hard to grow accustomed to or do they help transport you to that time and place?
Hannah: The costumes are absolutely essential to creating the world. My friends came over to see the play and were blown away. Toby Frow our director and Francis O'Connor the designer wanted this Caravaggio-esque image on stage. It really does work because it's such a claustrophobic house with just the sidelights and so it really shows when it gradually opens up as the house is decorated more with Rachel's feminine little touches. Also, as an actress, when you're playing a woman from this era to not be wearing a corset is a strange feeling, when you first put the corset on you begin to feel the part. They're not exactly comfortable but it's all part of the role and when I put the wig on I feel transformed.
Do you think Rachel is a pragmatic character or does her mysterious black widow reputation make her something far more erratic and romanticised?
Hannah: I try to play her as both. She's actually more enigmatic in the book because there's more scope for the little details like when she flickers her eyes back and forth towards the fire. I also got the impression from the book of her being really ethereal which I loved and I hope this ambiguity comes across in our play. I don't think you are ever really supposed to know who she is.
Do you think Philip is simply naive or is he to an extent complicit in the rumoured exploitation of the estate considering his relationship with Rachel?
Marty: It's all a massive conundrum in his head. Brilliantly it's a story about his own obsession and jealousies but also it's a coming of age story and his sexual awakening. He's grown up in a household of men and he's about twenty four at this point which by nowadays standards seems hard to believe. She's this much more experienced older woman, an exotic figure who comes downstairs in her nightgown, who sends him spinning. He's also got this awful arrogant streak having grown up as an only child and heir to this estate, which makes him so self important. This arrogance is that great when it comes to judgement because he can be quite impulsive and doesn't feel the need to apologise or consider anyone else's opinions.
Is his juvenile character quite fun to play?
Marty: Yeah, it is. He may try to act like a man but as the play shows he's quite a lot of growing up to do.
Do you think the depiction of gender is fair in My Cousin Rachel?
Hannah: I do. I think she's an incredibly strong woman for the time. As she says at one point, 'I can buy what I need'. I think Daphne Du Maurier created a world that is responsible in its portrayal of gender and Joe has carried this forward. It's kind of ahead of its time when you think of her relationship with Philip and the gender roles, and how it's all kind of merged together. It's a female author too.
Marty: Certainly, to even voice the issues in this play at that time is ahead of its time. There's a great part in the play where I talk about handing over the estate to her and the point is made that women aren't allowed own property at that time which now seems so incredible and ridiculous, but that's the way it was.
What are your plans for after the show?
Marty: I've been working constantly for at least a year and a half now so I'll be taking a break.
Hannah: I live in Washington DC so I came over to do this, I was in the first run of the show and this revival but I'm hoping I don't have too much of a break.
My Cousin Rachel is running at The Gate until January 19th. Tickets from €25 are available now.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Friday 23rd November 2012 | Theatre
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