Dir. Erin Rice, Kings Theatre, 2nd – 7th November 2015
An upturned boat sits centre stage; flanked by curving steps and plush furniture, dusted with sprinklings of sand and lit with a glittering chandelier from above, the scene is one of faded grandeur, somehow evocative both of the eerie seaside and the majestic glamour of the 30s. This juxtaposition is one which characterises Rebecca, Kneehigh Productions’ adaptation of the famous Daphne du Maurier novel: a production which consistently draws upon dance, music and melodious choruses in the tradition of sea shanties to create a suspenseful and atmospheric rendition of Rebecca.
The nameless protagonist arrives at Manderley as the new wife of Maxim de Winter, and finds herself increasingly side-lined by the imposing housekeeper Mrs Danvers, the patronising distance of her husband and,most of all, the overbearing presence of Rebecca, Maxim’s first wife. The story is a familiar one to the audience, as is evidenced by the frequent murmurs at pivotal points, but it is one that is delivered freshly.
Adapted and directed by Erin Rice, the play’s Cornish setting is utilised to ghostly effect. The way in which the set fluidly adapts from majestic country manor to haunting seaside haven is intriguing; and blurs the lines between each setting, infusing Manderley with a dark fascination that is highly suggestive of the characters’ underlying tensions. The darkly clad fishermen and their eerie lanterns, crowd the stage during the most dramatic moments, lending a melancholy edge to the play. The focus on comedic interludes – although entertaining in their own right – perhaps detract from the anticipatory atmosphere that is otherwise impeccably sustained, and the lingering shadow of Rebecca could have been employed to more effect.
Du Maurier’s novel has an inherent theatricality that translates well to the stage and Imogen Sage is excellent in her role as Mrs de Winter, the youthful, browbeaten wife who is transformed into a cunning, fiercely protective woman under the audience’s very gaze. According to Rice, the potentialityof Rebecca is that the characters are capable of anything; the mysterious complexities of human nature are skilfully explored in this adaptation, and the result is a captivating and entertaining interpretation.