Evan (James Lawrence) is an artist and Cherry (Sarah Dungworth) is his new wife. They don’t sleep in the same bed and generally live separate lives, rather shocking to everyone outside Chelsea. Together, they come home to Cornwall to stay with Cherry’s widowed mother Stella (Ellen Verenieks),
beautiful and hidden as a pressed flower in her home by the sea. As Evan paints Stella, they start to fall in love, making for a suspenseful, nuanced two hours.
This is not the Manderley of Du Maurier’s Rebecca, where corpses and their terrible secrets pop up from the sea, but a bright and well-kept space filled with hidden heartache where real love flourishes between the artist and his muse. Each character negotiates a very singular relationship with
the others, the spoilt child and her doting mother, the (then) terribly modern husband and wife, the smitten artist and his shy muse. As the play develops, the audience glimpses the edges and gaps in a complex, intriguing network of relations that have a sense of history.
Du Maurier’s own bisexuality and less than conventional marriage are rather skated over in the programme. By contrast the production itself does not sweep things under the rug, making overt the hinted-at sexuality in Du Maurier’s text. There seems to me to be no doubt that Evan and Stella’s relationship is sexual as well as romantic, making the play’s conclusion much more wrenching for all concerned. The result of this approach is something subtly-timed, and sweetly humorous without lapsing into the twee, unflinching without being gritty, redolent perhaps of Barney Norris’s recent work The Visitors.
September Tide is playing alongside Hay Fever, Pardon Me Prime Minister, and other plays, as part of the Theatre Royal Windsor’s weekly repertory season Catching the others is recommended.