Mrs de winter

Rebecca

Birmingham Rep

****

A FABULOUS crumbling, foreboding Gothic set of Manderley and its gloomy Cornish cove from designer Leslie Travers sets the slightly unreal tone for director Emma Rice’s clever adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s celebrated novel.

Rice has injected humour into what was a rather miserably tense, mildly psychological thriller and, as well as lightening the gloom, has introduced a sort of Greek chorus of black Sou’wester dressed fishermen playing instruments, singing folk songs and sea shanties, and acting as stage hands constantly adjusting the set from cove to cottage to Manderlay.

Travers’ design, opening with the loss of Mrs de Winter No 1 at sea in a boat that descends to serve as wine cellar, hideaway, cliffs and living room floor, is transformed in seconds by planks for walkways, cushions, sheets and hand held window frames, helped by sympathetic lighting from Tim Lutkin, ensuring there is no break in the action which helps tremendously to build a natural rhythm.

And this is a tale the needs rhythm becamrs de winteruse in truth not a lot happens in Rebecca and Rice has done well to inject life and jollity into a plot that can be condensed into a couple of sentences.

Not so much femme as dress fatale as Imogen Sage as Mrs de Winter MkII makes her appearance at the midsummer ball

She also had to contend with another problem. When you adapt a well known book and even better known film for the stage it still has to stand on its own two feet. It has to work for growing numbers of people who have never seen Alfred Hitchock’s 1940 film or read du Maurier’s 1938 novel, a task it largely achieves.

The film made changes from the novel, an important one relating to Hollywood’s unwritten code of crime and punishment, and inevitably the play has to condense, change and adapt to get everything into one set and two hours and although largely faithful it does fall short of the book’s – and film’s – dramatic ending, which is understandable if you think of both technical and cost considerations and, perhaps more importantly the fact, done well, it would overpower and dominate a fine performance from an excellent cast. We get a hint though with the Sou'wester chorus carrying flaming torches to light the scene on the beach.

If the ending is only implied to those who know it, the familiar start is universal as the second Mrs de Winter tells us: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .” and off we go.

Tristram Sturrock iGiles and Beas a humourless cove as the wealthy Maxim de Winter, supposedly still wracked by grief at the loss of his first wife. He has some nice flashes of anger and is a convincing Cornish landed gentry but despite sister Beatrice claiming he only loses his temper twice a year, he does seem to use up a few year’s supply in one night’s performance.

Laughing and dancing the nights, and days, away are Bea and Giles played by Lizzie Winkler and Andy Williams

Imogen Sage as Mrs de Winter MkII gives a skilled performance as first the innocent, slightly drab and mousey, shy new bride, frightened of her new station and almost jumping at her own shadow and then growing in strength – and sensuality – as she discovers the truth, the dark secret which frees her from Rebecca’s shadow and we see her take charge of affairs in the dramatic climax. The change is dramatic and entirely convincing.

Beatrice is a lovely performance from Lizzie Winkler as the fun loving sister, all jolly hockey sticks with a heavy dose of sex. Incidentally on Press night she carried off a wardrobe malfunction, which perked up the gentlemen in the audience no end, with style and considerable aplomb, ably assisted in an amusing interlude, by her stage husband Giles, played by Andy Williams.

Giles is a plus fours, live life to the full sort of chap, whiskey and soda and a four and a half litre Lagonda on the drive. It is a lovely larger than life performance by Williams who also turns up as the rather dour Coastguard, who seems to act as coroner in those parts, and who holds Maxim’s future in his hands.

Those are the goodies. Leading the baddies we have Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper, played by Emily Raymond. She is a stern presence drifting silently around dressed in black and seemingly surrounded by her own black cloud of misery. We never know much about her but suspect fun would be an alien concept.

She obviously has a thing about the first Mrs de Mrs DanversWinter, but we never know enough to pin anything down. It was a studied performance of disdain for the new mistress but perhaps we could have had her a bit more sinister, a bit more evil before the final scene when we see her true colours – black of course.

Then there is cousin Jack Favell, played by Ewan Wardrop, who when he is not being a lecherous, charming, penniless cousin of Mrs de Winter MkI is a musician, stand-up and will be going from Rebecca to his acclaimed one-man show Formby, about George of course, come July.

Mrs de Winter being helped by Mrs Danvers, played by Emily Raymond,  always willing to help with an assisted, whether you want it or not, suicide

He has a strange relationship with Mrs Danvers, which is never explained and we never quite understand but we do find Maxim hates him with a vengeance and that he has had and still has a major part to play in the climax.

Richard Clews is a nicely played Frith the butler and the key to the whole thing, the doctor while, in truth the whole show is almost stolen by Katy Owen who plays the simple Ben on the beach, waiting for his drowned father to return.

It’s a nice little cameo but her day job is giving a magnificent performance as the servant Robert Talbot, Welsh as the valleys and with a mum going through the change of life with “hot flushes and a dry tuppence”.

She had seen the doctor and been given some cream and was feeling better by the end you will be pleased to know.

Robert also gave us a remarkably silly, remarkably energetic dance in the interval as the cast, now as servants, maids and footmen, amused themselves.

There are some nice touches, such as Jasper the puppet dog with a sniffing habit and foot operated tail, or the various sinister bird puppets that appear operated by the Sou’wester chorus. There are also a few questions posed which are never answered, such as why when the planks are removed from the middle of the staircase linking the house to the bedroom wing, the cast have to leap athletically down or clamber unceremoniously up stairs that are left ending in mid-air?

The original plot was wafer thin, more suited to a novella than a novel, but Knee High Theatre’s joint artistic director Emma Rice has fleshed it out with great skill and imagination in this Theatre Royal Plymouth Production to make for a most entertaining evening’s performance. To 02-05-15

Roger Clarke

27-05-15

Rebecca is at Malvern Theatres from Monday to Saturday, May 4-9

A second view

*****

IF you go to see this Theatre Royal Plymouth production of Daphne du Maurier’s classic story with fond memories of the Alfred Hitchcock film, you are due for a big surprise.

It is very, very different, and at first the live music and generous helpings of humour seem to undermine the smouldering menace threatening to destroy wealthy Maxim de Winter’s happiness as he returns to Manderley with his new bride following the mysterious death of his beautiful wife.

But any concerns the first night audience may have felt were surely removed as award-winning director Emma Rice’s brilliant interpretation gathered pace and developed into a thoroughly enjoyable theatrical experience.

The remarkable set designed by Leslie Travers represents de Winter’s lavish home and a piece of the Cornish coast, there are four musicians and men in sou’westers singing sea shanties plus a number of other amusing characters, including the darting Robert, played with amazing energy by Katy Owen.

Bird puppets operated by cast members fly over the scene and there is even the country estate’s pet dog with an embarrassing sniffing habit which raises a few laughs.

Imogen Sage impresses as the timid new Mrs de Winter, jealous of the glamorous reputation surrounding memories of her husband’s first wife, and resented by housekeeper Mrs Danvers, played, with not quite the sinister attitude expected, by Emily Raymond.

Tristan Sturrock gives a convincing performance as the cold de Winter, at one point stirred into a steamy sexy clinch with his new wife, while some of the most humorous moments are provided by Lizzie Winkler (Maxim’s sister Beatrice) and Andy Williams (her husband Giles).

Paul Marston 

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