City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, a Study in Jealousy, King's Theatre, Review

By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 21 October 2015

Scene from "Rebecca"  by Kneehigh Theatre
Show Details
King's Theatre
Kneehigh Theatre in association with Theatre Royal, Plymouth
David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers (producers), Emma Rice, (director, adaptor), Leslie Travers (design), Simon Baker (Original music and sound), Ian Ross (musical director), Tim Lutkin (lighting)
Imogen Sage (Mrs de Winter), Tristan Sturrock (Maxim), Lizzie Winkler (Beatrice), Richard Clews (Frith), Andy Williams (Giles and Coastguard), Katy Owen (Robert and Ben), Emily Raymond (Mrs Danvers), Ewan Wardrop (Jack Favell), Barbara Hockaday, Samuel Martin, Emily May Smith (Fishermen)
Running time: 

Founded as a community drama workshop 30 years ago, Kneehigh is now regarded as Cornwall’s National Theatre and one of UK’s most exciting touring companies for their innovative, physical, multi-media performance style.

What could be more fitting for Kneehigh Theatre than to adapt Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier’s gothic romance set on the wild, windswept Cornish coastline.

'…..the book will be about the influence of a first wife on a second,” wrote Daphne in her notes. “Until wife 2 is haunted day and night… a tragedy is looming very close and crash! Bang! Something happens.”

The year before Daphne married Frederick Browning, (Tommy), he had been engaged to glamorous socialite, Jan Ricardo. Her suspicion that he remained attracted to Ricardo was the spark of an idea for a novel as a study in jealousy.

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again ……I look upon a desolate shell, soulless at last, unhaunted, with no whisper of the past about its staring walls. The house was a sepulchre, our fears and suffering lay buried in the ruins”

The narrative takes the form of a flashback through the memories of the second Mrs de Winter: the first romantic encounter with Maxim de Winter, her bittersweet life at Manderley, with its ghostly presence of Rebecca, as she searches to find the truth behind her death.

Taking the opening lines as the key literary and dramatic thread, Director Emma Rice has adapted the story as a mysterious dreamscape journey with expressionist vision, imagination and wit.

The curtain rises to reveal the burnt out ruins of Manderley, its staircase curving down halfway, joining on to wooden slats of a Jetty across a rocky shingle beach with an old upturned dinghy. We hear the rumbling sound of stormy wind and waves. The towering ship- like set with high mezzanine galleries, is rather like the lost elegant grandeur of the Titanic.

Into this desolate shell of a house, a glittering chandelier and a wing armchair appear, Frith the Butler and footmen rush round, as we time travel back to happier days. Maxim strides downstairs having just arrived home from his honeymoon to be greeted by Jasper, his very well trained wagging dog. Aristocratically debonair with matinee idol looks, tailored suit and clipped accent, Tristan Sturrock is the perfect Max.

Like a music hall double act, his sister Bea, (draped in velvet), and her husband Giles (country tweeds), are both hilariously eccentric with gleeful bonhomie. Then Mrs de Winter (Wife 2) steps nervously forward, clutching her suitcase to her chest as if protecting her life’s possessions. Aged just twenty one, she is shy, naïve, socially insecure, but with girlish charm, all captured perfectly by Imogen Sage in her pretty tea dress and bobbed blonde hair (so reminiscent of Joanna David in the 1979 TV adaptation of Rebecca).

She admits that she has no personal maid and had to earn her own living: “Do you not have a family?” Bea barks, knowing nothing but a leisured, moneyed, servant-run house. Making her feel even more like a total outsider is Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper, who has a cold, cruel, menacing attitude - how dare she try to take Rebecca’s place at Manderley.

From the opening scenes, this is Kneehigh territory with a multi-talented ensemble cast of actors, puppeteers, singers and musicians. Sash windows, props, drapes, cushions, woodland trees pop up as if by magic in a fast paced, scene-changing show.

Music and song beautifully capture the sense of place, time and heightening tension like a film score from violin melodies and melancholy sea shanties from a ghostly chorus of fishermen, dressed in black oilskins and sou’westers.

Thrown into the mix are unexpected moments of farcical comedy such as Robert, the young footman running up and down stairs to answer the phone with exaggerated speed and gesture. He is also rather partial to licking stamps (a glue habit which worries the Butler!).

And there’s dancing - Charleston, Tap, an Egyptian sand dance routine .. and adding “Let's Face the Music and Dance" with the chilling refrain, “There’ll be Trouble Ahead” … is a touch of genius.

All this jolly partying is totally in keeping with the mannered, fashionable, ”Downton Abbey” social life at Manderley, matched by 1930s period style and costumes from slinky evening gowns and black tie dinner jackets to jodphurs and motoring goggles.

While the crazy capers can be a tad pantomimic at times, the light entertainment enhances the lingering dark mood of this psychological thriller of a tale. One moment we are laughing, the next, hit with a dastardly twist in the plot.

This is a vivid and vivacious re-imagining of "Rebecca": enriched with flights of fantasy, it gets to the heart of Mrs de Winter’s story, dramatising her dream of memories in the distant past at Manderley.

Show times
19 – 24 October, 2015

On Tour in Scotland -
His Majesty’s, Aberdeen: 26 – 31 October, 2015
King’s Theatre, Glasgow: 2 – 7 November, 2015

Further tour dates,