Rebecca is a theatrical event that I have (along with my review partner) been waiting for since its coming was first announced months ago and those flyers with that wonderful artwork started to appear.
On paper, this looks to be a perfect theatre – Daphne Du Maurier’s classic tale of dark and brooding emotions set in an equally dark and brooding mansion and all set against the Cornish coast and the dark power of its seas. Add to that a theatre company from Cornwall (where Du Maurier spent much of her life) with enormous respect for the local traditions and landscape and this should have been perfect. Add into this as well the place this book holds in many people’s affections and the iconic 1940 film adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock (starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine), then everything should have been on very safe Cornish ground.
Perfect of course, always depends on your perspective, but this is not Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca”, this is Emma Rice’s “Rebecca” and Emma happily owns up in the short interview in the programme to taking “some liberties” with the original source material. You will either love or hate those liberties, but what is clear throughout this performance is not just respect, but almost reverence for the Cornish seas, landscapes and fishermen.
Everything started of wonderfully. “Rebecca” has one of the most impressive and complex sets that I have seen on stage and, with wonderful lighting and sound, immediately sets the atmosphere you would expect for this story. When you hear the classic opening lines of “Last Night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again” you feel on firm familiar ground. Leslie Travers, Tim Lutrin, and Simon Baker are responsible for the amazing sets, lights, and sounds and I mention them early here as they are as important to this production as any of the actors or the narrative itself.
This for me is where things quickly start to go wrong as a lot of comedy (almost farcical comedy) is introduced into Act One and although many members of tonight’s audience obviously loved this (judging by the laughter), it for me does nothing for the story and seems odd while at the same time the very dramatic “Rebecca” that we all love is also being played out on stage. If anything, the comedy of Act One interrupts constantly the dramatic points that the more original story line is building up to. The frequent laughter from the audience at many of the comedy lines and sight jokes may on one level prove that these elements are working, but hardly provide the “Rebecca” atmosphere that many people would have expected.
For me this is a pity, as the sets are wonderful, the original source material is a classic and the actors on stage are actually very good, particularly when left alone to do the real dramatic parts. The curious thing about this production to me is that it is almost two performances in one. Our lead characters from the book Mrs de Winter (Imogen Sage), Maxim de Winter (Tristan Sturrock) and Mrs Danvers (Emily Raymond) are all very good and play their roles without comedy and actually do not get involved in the lighter events going on around them. Imogen Sage plays the young bride totally unprepared for the world into which she is entering with a lovely naive touch to start with that changes as she becomes stronger in her role as the new mistress of the house. Tristan Sturrock gets that arrogance that comes only from a life of being waited on pretty much right plus portraying a devotion to his inheritance that overrides anything else. Emily Raymond as Mrs Danvers actually gets for me the more interesting part here. Her almost sinister devotion to the first Mrs de Winter is certainly rooted in the original material and not the comedy going on around her.
Much of the comedy is provided by Beatrice (Lizzie Winkler) and Giles (Andy Williams) with of course help from Butler Frith (Richard Clews). All the comedy is well played by everyone and aided often by a very well made marionette dog (that does steal the scenes at times), but I question why this has been put into the storyline as for me it detracts from it and is at times intrusive.
Katy Owen gets two parts here. Houseboy and comedy element Robert, and living on the beach waiting for his lost at sea father to return Ben. Katy for me gets an odd mix of parts here and does both very well. One part –Ben - works wonderfully in the story, the ever wanting to answer the telephone Robert just does not seem to fit into the story at all and that is not Katy Owen’s fault.
Act Two however is a completely different beat altogether though as it is pretty much stripped of most of the comedy elements and brings us right back to the wonderful dramatic source material. Here some of the new additions such as local music actually have a place and do in parts enhance the story. Act Two is how I would have loved Act One to have been more like.
Will you like this one? That is always a question of taste. If you are (like my review partner) going to see a pretty straight adaptation of a book you love then you may have to wait until Act Two for that (but do wait, it is worth it in the end).
The big question about this production is of course, does the original source material need “liberties” taken with it at all – particularly the comedy elements? Only you can be the judge of that for yourself. Does such over the top comedy even fit into the atmosphere of this work?...that is another question altogether.
An interesting point for me too is that the wonderful Rebecca image used throughout the promotion is actually called “Girl With an Orchid” and is by artist Robert G Harris. The image is from a 1942 Cosmopolitan magazine yet somehow has the look of Nicole Kidman about it (particularly around the eyes).
Review by Tom King & Lisa Sibbald