Rebecca King’s Theatre

“Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again” Keeping true to the original novel by Daphne Du Maurier, the play opens with these famous lines spoken by the narrator, the young unwordly second wife of Max De Winter whose first wife, Rebecca, was drowned in a sailing accident only a year before. This is one of my favourite novels and I also love Hitchcock’s 1940 film version with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine so I was hoping this would not be some straightforward old fashioned retelling of the story which might not match up to the original.

I needn’t have worried – Director Emma Rice breathes new life into the story with this dreamlike production. She has placed it firmly in the culture of its Cornish setting, the fantastic stage design managing to simultaneously evoke the sea and the shore as well as the crumbling grandeur of Manderley and the sea shanties and music providing an atmospheric and integral part of the action.

I’m sure you will all be familiar with the story. Rebecca may be dead but her malevolent influence lives on through the obsessively loyal housekeeper Mrs Danvers, through her caddish lover Jack Flavell and through the constant reminders and memories which continue to haunt Max and his new child bride. A violent storm throws up Rebecca’s sunken boat and body and threatens to disrupt any chance of happiness for the couple. Tristan Sturrock is perfect as the brooding troubled Max and Imogen Sage equally perfect as the ingénue who by the end of the play has well and truly lost her innocence. Emily Raymond plays Mrs Danvers with the right amount of menace and Ewan Wardrop plays Favell with a swagger. Adding a touch of comedy to lighten the darkness of the tale are Giles and Beatrice (Andy Williams and Lizzie Winkler), Max’s jolly hockey sticks sister and her husband, the butler Frith (Richard Clews) and last but not least Katy Owen as the hyperactive servant Robert. They all, along with the other supporting actors, play their part in the ingenious onstage scene changes, the singing and the music.

Rice has stayed fairly faithful to the original story and any changes are complimentary rather than detrimental. The focus on the Cornish setting and the inclusion of the music add an innovative and interesting dimension and I liked the way she has given the heroine more of a voice. By the end of the play, she has become stronger, colder and more calculating, and one senses that, like Rebecca, she will now have the upper hand in the relationship.

Irene Brownlee