FringeReview UK 2015
Rebecca is timeless; the book beloved by generations and the iconic Alfred Hitchcock film a classic of the genre. Now Rebecca bursts onto the stage! Emma Rice, the award winning director, has created a spellbinding new production of Daphne duMaurier’s masterpiece which conjures Cornish romance and theatrical magic.
Upon seeing that Rebecca was on at the Theatre Royal in Brighton, my first glance led me to expect it to be a similar production to the desultory one I saw several years ago with Nigel Havers. Yet when I saw it was one of Kneehigh’s commercially touring shows I was very keen to go, as this eccentric Cornish company frequently take and twist old classics to great effect.
I was fortunately not disappointed with this offering, and Kneehigh put on a very tongue in cheek, high energy show that was a lot of fun to watch, and no doubt to take part in. Kneehigh have a particular style that usually involves clever sets, live music galore and the odd puppet or two, all of which they wove into the modern-gothic tale of Rebecca, written in the 1930s by Daphne DuMaurier.
The set was very impressive – a decaying ballroom/foyer in the mansion of Manderley; all rusting balconies and crumbling plaster. A boat descended down on ropes at the start of the show, an eerie drowned corpse dangling beneath it, of course representing the tragically drowned Rebecca. This formed part of the set floor, and served as a stage for numerous sea shanties sung by gaggles of fishermen clad in grey sou-westers.
Rebecca is a strange novel, part detective story, part trashy romance, and doesn’t have the literary kudos of novels such as those of the Bronte sisters, which DuMaurier’s books are frequently compared to. Kneehigh’s take clearly represented the slightly pulp fiction nature of the tale, playing up the RP accents, and unafraid to pepper the entire show with the delightfully funny antics of young servant Robert, played by Katy Owen.
Yet the silliness and exaggeration in no way detracted from the tension and drama of the piece, which still had the power to twist my stomach with nerves, despite me knowing exactly what was coming next. The characters were finely crafted, with the second Mrs De Winter being excellently played by Imogen Sage, who perfectly pitched the speedy yet subtle transition between frail and acquiescent little nymph into a cunning and powerful woman.
The songs and dances that punctuated the show kept the energy high, and generally added much to the piece. The characters of Bea and Giles were absurd caricatures who also added chaos and silliness, but in a very likeable and tolerable way. Everything in this piece was much too much, but actually done just right.
Towards the end of the play the energy dipped somewhat, which could also be attributed to the slightly strange dénouement of the story. Here all the plot points are tied up a little too easily, as if De Maurier just didn’t know how to finish it, so brought in a terribly handy doctor who could explain all. This authorial decision is slightly reflected in this adaptation, but the company manage to rectify it somewhat with plenty of songs and comedic inserts.
This was an extremely enjoyable show to watch, performed by a talented group of actors and well adapted by director Emma Rice. It was light-hearted whilst maintaining the tension of the original story, and avoided many of the pitfalls stage shows fall into when attempting to represent a whole novel. Highly Recommended!