A review by Julia Gasper
This production by Kneehigh Theatre is nothing at all like the Hitchcock film, which in its way captured the atmosphere of Daphne du Maurier’s classic psychological thriller. Taking the unforgettable opening line, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…” the theatre company has created a production that is dream-like and surreal throughout. Scenes merge, and one Escher-like set combines interior and outdoor reality, doubling as the sweeping staircase of Manderley itself and also the rocks of the Cornish coast where boats are wrecked in storms.
The pervasive presence of the sea is evoked by a chorus of Cornish fishermen, singing traditional sea songs to the haunting sound of a violin. By contrast, from time to time we get snatches of 1930s dance music played on a scratchy gramophone, bringing to mind the world of the smart set in the interwar period. There is parody and comedy too, in the dance-sequences, and in the use of deliberately non-naturalistic props to indicate windows. Max’s faithful hound is played by a puppet dog. This does not prevent the mysterious and sinister aspects of the story from coming over too, particularly embodied in the enigmatic figure of Mrs Danvers (Emily Raymond), always dressed in grim black.
As the heroine, Imogen Sage gives us a gradual transition from the gauche, naive girl who arrives at the imposing old house and feels overwhelmed by the position she is expected to take on, into a more confident, mature and sexual woman, urging her husband to stand his ground. The part of Max de Winter was impeccably played by Tristan Sturrock. He appears to be an assured and relaxed man of the world, but little by little his insecurities and demons start to surface. The part of Jack Favell, the rake and rotter, (Ewan Wardrop) is amusingly over the top, but stylishly done.
While I don’t mind this non-reverential approach, there are some things that should be adjusted a little – the voices in particular. The plummy upper-class voices of Max’s sister Beatrice (Lizzie Walker) and the heroine are too exaggerated. The heroine is meant to have been working as a companion to a rich American woman before she met Max de Winter, so she does not need to sound like a debutante. The role of Beatrice is too dominant altogether, and when she first appears, acting like a siren, the audience possibly mistakes her for Rebecca. She is too loud and while she and her husband are comical, they should not be the centre of attention too often. At the very start of the play, the heroine’s dream, she has her back turned to the audience and delivers the words “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…” She is trying to be heard, but she belted out the words in too harsh a tone, almost yelling. Beatrice barks and her husband, the major, has rather too high-pitched a voice. It would be an improvement if these tones were all modulated. If they had to use a recorded voice-over for the opening, that would not be a bad thing.
Altogether, I would praise the set, the music and the bold conception of this production. It’s not for purists who will object to many things, not least a little marital intimacy on stage, but it is an imaginative staging and the evocation of the sea and all things Cornish is very creative.
This production of Rebecca is at the Playhouse until Saturday, then going on to Sheffield Lyceum Theatre : 23-28 Nov and Southampton Mayflower Theatre : 30 Nov-5 Dec.
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