A Play, a Pie and a Pint: Rachel’s Cousins
**** 4 stars
It’s all about lies, the lies we tell others, and the lies we tell ourselves: and I wonder whether the biggest lie of all is the underlying theme of the play. It begins with a song about “keeping our family strong” and this is a show all about the strength of family ties.
Rachel, an elegant woman in a little black dress, is in her elegant flat awaiting the arrival of Alex who hurries in, relieved to see she is ‘okay’. It’s obvious that they have an intimate relationship: we learn she has recently had breast surgery and that he is her boss, and married with kids. He opens a letter from the hospital telling her she has tested positive for the mutated gene BRCA 2, and so is at high risk of breast, cervical and ovarian cancers. The condition is hereditary: she must inform her female relatives so that they too can be tested.
Unwillingly Rachel goes to visit Marion, a cousin from whom she is estranged. Josie, another cousin, drops by: the stilted conversation which ensues shows how little contact Rachel has had with any of her family recently, and how uncomfortable she is in their company. Josie and Marion are down-to-earth Weegies, and we see how very differently they approach whatever life throws at them. Rachel takes the cool, distant, logical approach, Josie worries, and Marion wisecracks her way through the disasters which she seems constantly to attract [there are some wonderful ‘titless’ jokes here].
We start to see behind the façades of everyone’s lives, and the lies they tell themselves and each other. Josie pretends her husband Kevin is a tower of strength, when he is completely indifferent to her plight. Marion’s laughing demeanour conceals sheer terror as she fears that she, like her mother, might die of cancer. Alex is a rat, taking what he wants from Rachel, dropping her like a hot potato when family problems arise, and trying to worm his way back into her knickers when she is the obvious choice of new partner in his law firm. Rachel’s cool, calm, competent demeanour finally cracks as she realises the lies she has been telling his wife and uses the graphic language she has heard from her cousins to tell Alex exactly what he can do with himself.
Much of the humour of the play lies in the contrast of cultures: there was loud laughter at the wise-cracking Weegies, but little at Rachel’s very prim and proper reactions to her less than high-class cousins. Would this have been the other way round at the Tron? There is good contrast between the humour of the piece and the depth of the pain each woman has to face. The excellently-portrayed characters, and the situation itself, are somewhat stereotypical – the Weegies with hearts of gold, always there for each other, wisecracking their way through the blows that constantly assail them; the correct and oh-so-proper Edinburgh lawyer who regards them with undisguised horror; the cheating bastard who wants to have his cake and eat it, and the way family triumphs – “we’re all there for each other in the end”.
So is it real, all this “family together”? It’s something I’ve really only experienced in the gay ghetto in the 1980s and 90s when so many of us who didn’t have blood family who acknowledged us, built real family in those around us who understood our suffering and were suffering too… It’s a wonderful idea, and great for those who do experience it, but leaves those of us who don’t feeling pretty lonely – as, maybe, Rachel does at the start of the play.
Be that as it may, it’s a most enjoyable half hour’s entertainment, accompanied by a choice of excellent pies and a variety of pints or alternatives, and highly recommended if you have the time and the inclination.
A Play, a Pie and a Pint: Rachel’s Cousins Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh run ends 14th for Tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/?alttemplate=eventdetails&EventId=26402&resize=true
Review by Mary Woodward