If you’re looking for an adaptation that clings faithfully to every page of Du Maurier’s novel, this is not for you. If you’re looking for a stage version of Hitchcock’s thriller, this is not for you. But if you’re looking for an original and absolutely incredible take on Rebecca, this is it.
Rice says she wanted to convey the mythical element of Rebecca and does so with haunting Cornish folk music, beautiful puppetry and a set which fuses the natural world with the grand interior of Manderley. The cast, dressed as fishermen or servants depending on the setting, hold up window frames or torches, chant eerily, play violins. A chandelier illuminates the boat, which remains centre stage throughout, but only reveals its secrets at the last moment…
The major departure from the original is the tone of the first half, which is played as a comedy rather than a suspenseful ‘study in jealousy’ – Du Maurier’s working title for the book. Major and Lady Lacy are wild, funny and do a mean Charleston. Robert, played by a woman, is ridiculously excited about answering the telephone. Favell is wonderfully ostentatious and sleazy. Even the dog attempts to nose up the skirts of Mr de Winter’s new bride.
While this drastically departs from the original, tension is not completely omitted. Mrs Danvers is still chillingly manipulative and the moment with the dress – you know the one I mean – is still shocking. The fact is, you do know what I mean and, unlike Du Maurier’s contemporaries, we already know what’s going to happen. Shifting the focus from suspense to comedy, for the opening at least, is a logical and creative response to this, bringing an unexpected but delightful element to the familiar story.
Although the second act opens with dancing and debauchery, it soon spirals into the tense psychological drama which we’ve all been waiting for. Sage’s transition from naïve innocent to fierce manipulator is brilliant, as are the scenes where Rebecca seems to speak through the married couple as they take turns wearing her robe. The songs from the first half come back to haunt us in much darker renditions, the lyrics loaded with significance now that the plot has unravelled.
The magic of the production lies in the layering of Travers’ beautiful design; the boundaries of Manderley, the cottage and the beach all blur to dream-like effect. Rice’s says she is faithful to the original, but ‘Enslaved, no!’ – the result is a unique and uncompromising vision, an unforgettable Rebecca.
- Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier
- Adapted and directed by Emma Rice
- Cast includes: Imogen Sage, Tristan Sturrock and Emily Raymond
- The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
- Until 4 April 2015
- Time: 19:30
- Review by S. A. McCracken
- 31 March 2015