PPP: Rachel’s Cousins

Apr 11 2018 | By More

★★★★☆    Clever comedy

Traverse: Tue 10 – Sat 14 April 2018
Review by Thom Dibdin

Upbeat and often very funny indeed, Rachel’s Cousins, this week’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint lunchtime theatre at the Traverse, doesn’t allow the prospect of cancer to get in its way.

In outline, Ann Marie di Mambro’s script doesn’t hold much hope of fun. Uptight lawyer Rachel, recovering from breast cancer and a double mastectomy, has to tell her long-estranged cousins that they, like her, are likely to carry the rare BRACCA2 gene that makes them particularly susceptible to cancer.

Shonagh Price, Isabelle Joss and Julie Coombe. Pic: Leslie Black

The prospect of Shonagh Price as hoity-toity Rachel with Julie Coombe and Isabelle Joss as her down-to-earth working class cousins, Marion and Josie, puts paid to any concerns. Add Richard Conlon as Rachel’s boss, Alex, and you have a recipe for brilliance.

The opening scene between Price and Conlon is worth the price of entry alone. Ken Alexander’s direction is punctilious and di Mambro’s writing beautifully structured as the two characters and their relationship are gently teased out.

Price and Conlon pay every attention to both the element of surprise and to ensuring depth of understanding of what is going on between the two. Any necessary shortcuts to understanding – this packs a huge amount into a 50 minute show – are finessed with such grace that you don’t even recognise them as cliches as they slip by.

Adding Coombe and Joss into the mix seems at first to be a simply resort to contrast. But there’s so much more depth here than their observational comedy first indicates. Coombe’s mouthy hard-working widowed mother of three, Marion, never shows a chink in her armour of vocal put-downs, nor does she resort to victim-hood – except as a ruse to raise a laugh.


Isabelle Joss creates a lot more depth than would at first be apparent to side-kick Josie, whose husband works all the overtime he can get on the rigs. Although, on paper, hers is the least rounded of the three female characters Joss succeeds in making the truth of her situation obvious to her audience but convincingly hidden from herself.

Isabelle Joss and Julie Coombe. Pic: Leslie Black

As a double act, they provide a welcome looseness to the production, a laid-back openness that contrasts well with Price and Conlon. The bringing of the two elements together is Alexander and di Mambro’s concern, which they succeed in doing with real compassion.

There is great work all round here – Andy Cowan’s song choice in his sound design is particularly appealing, despite itself. While the sheer simplicity of Ross Kirkland and Chris Reilly’s lighting with Jonathan Scott and Gemma Patchett’s set is remarkable as it helps keeps the pace fast between, sometimes overlapping scenes.

Ultimately the success of the production lies in di Mambro’s script, however. She makes present day concerns about power-relationships at work and loneliness in a crowded society integral to it. And in so doing, helps make the crucial issue of cancer, its portrayal and how we talk about it, rather more intertwined in a plot that is, at its core, about the bonds of family and respect.

A great laugh that is emotional without being sentimental.

Running time 55 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 10 – Saturday 14 April 2018
Daily at 1pm; Fri 13 Apr also at 7pm
Information and tickets: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event-detail/1377/a-play-a-pie-and-a-pint-rachels-cousins.aspx.

Richard Conlon and Shonagh Price. Pic: Leslie Black


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