I must be brainless if the story of Rebecca is a timeless classic. Here is my confession: I have not read or watched Rebecca. I ask Daphne du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock for forgiveness, but the beauty of the unknown can be a such wonderful blessing. A play adapted and directed by Emma Rice – with a first name like that I knew I was in safe hands! Power to the Emma! I had no expectations or knowledge of what was behind the stage of the Theatre Royal Brighton. Although, my theatre sidekick, Sammi O’Neill, did warn me of the evil Mrs Danvers.
Following the mysterious death of his first wife, Maxim de Winter returns to Manderley with his new young bride. Surrounded by memories of the glamorous Rebecca, the new Mrs De Winter is consumed by jealousy. She sets out to uncover the secrets of the house and a past fiercely guarded by the sinister housekeeper Mrs Danvers. All is not what it seems in Manderley…
Rebecca The Play 2015
Rebecca‘s set design was simply sex on legs stage – the best I’ve ever seen! Leslie Travers = absolute legend! Like every production, the curtain performs like a Burlesque dancer, teasing you towards the “big” reveal. Boy! I wasn’t disappointed – it was an eye fest. With a whiff of Banksy’s Dismaland, the posh mansion distorted and warped every childhood dream. Sticking two fingers up to Health and Safety, the staircase was neglected or rebuilt by the fishermen, causing characters (especially Robert and Doctor) to take leaps of faith. I adored the ironwork’s detail such as the twisted “R” emblems, symbolising Rebecca’s demise. The set was simply a piece of art and its presence will continue to stain my theatre memories.
Another moment of visual perfection was a wooden boat lowering with a dead puppet dangling underneath. Reimagining Rebecca’s death, the puppet falls onto the stage with the boat encasing her body and becomes a gravestone throughout the play. Puppetry is a pretty hard thing to master – I usually roll my eyes and curse “War Horse” or “Lion King” under my breath. However, Rebecca used the puppets carefully and wisely. From the dog’s (foot beaten) tail wagging to the birds of paradise (pigeons and crows), it was a quirky touch.
Focusing upon the play’s tagline “A Study in Jealously“, the incredible cast hammered the message home. Thanks (or should I say no thanks) to Manderley, Mrs de Winter (Imogen Sage) undergoes an emotional transformation and mentally murders her delicate butterflied soul. With an exterior of a true gent, Maxim de Winter (Tristan Sturrock) is a man plagued with venomous hatred towards his late wife and her loverboy Jack Favell (Ewan Wardrop), but unleashes his confessions with a sympathy card. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Mrs Danvers (Emily Raymond) stone skipping the waters of these newlyweds, especially convincing Mrs de Winter to surprise her guests with her fancy dress costume – Rebecca’s black dress. It was like a failed Grease moment – awkward! During the final scenes, I applauded Mrs de Winter’s female domination as the power dynamic between this husband and wife swaps.
Every character had a beautiful essence of light and shade. Throughout the play, there were many characters providing the comic relief, including Beatrice (Lizzie Winkler) and Giles (Andy Williams). Personally, their husband and wife teamwork bore similarities with the over exaggerated characters from Mischief Theatre’s A Play That Goes Wrong. They were the play’s treasure chests and offered forbidden golden nuggets of Manderley’s past for confused Mrs de Winter and the audience. Then, there was little Robert (Katy Owen…yes a girl!) who dashes at the privilege of answering the house telephone and has the play’s greatest gift: funny lines. The wonderful Frith (Richard Clews) was the wise butler, often a father figure towards young Robert, and serenaded Mrs de Winter with a flower as a welcoming gift.
Rebecca was a simply gorgeous play. During the interval, I literally pinched myself with this rare treat of theatre luck and couldn’t wait to return to my seat. It was like receiving an unexpected gift in the post from an unknown sender – Kneehigh Theatre. The ending even had flames (Kanye West eat your heart out – okay O.T.T!) Rebecca has become one of my favourite plays for 2015 and I will certainly watch Kneehigh Theatre’s activity like a theatre hawk from now on….and yes I will read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (but it won’t be as good as the play!)
Follow Rebecca The Play journey here