[All images courtesy of rebeccatheplay.com]
From the internationally acclaimed Kneehigh Theatre comes Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, a study in jealousy, adapted and directed by Emma Rice.
Kneehigh’s fantastical take on Daphne Du Maurier’s seminal novel that became the subject of Hitchcock’s haunting filmic adaptation is a tale of jealousy, passion and secrecy. Emma Rice both directs and adapts with assured prowess, with an eye for detail as well as making the bigger picture a massive melodramatic masterpiece.
Both the novel and this adaptation start with the words: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” These are impactful words that bookend the piece. It is set in Cornwall – apt, given that Kneehigh are based in Truro. This gives Rice and company a real sense of both the beauty and menace of the ocean waves off its coast.
It is gradually revealed how the late Mrs De Winter was drowned in a tragic ‘accident’ at sea. We are drip-fed clues as to what really happened, the subject being taboo in the Manderley household now that Maxim De Winter has re-married. We see newly-weds straight from their honeymoon in Monaco, and immediately the gothic, ghostly presence of the place is overpowering.
Maxim is not a bad man, played with gusto but sensitivity by Kneehigh veteran Tristan Sturrock, but he refuses to cast out the inner demons left within him from his previous marriage which was not what it looked to be on the surface. Decadent socialites on a constant round of debauched partying that actually hid a seeping wound of emotional turmoil. And while his new bride tries so hard she feels she will never fulfil the role demanded of her as lady of the house.
One major stumbling block in her new role is the character of housekeeper Mrs Danvers, who is a stern sterile awkward woman, obsessively bitter and darkly sinister with it. Light relief comes from the young servant Robert, a young Welsh boy played for laughs. While the bawdy Beatrice (Maxim’s sister) and Giles (a sizzled old sod of a brother in law) provide further fun and frolics.
Then there is the magic of the Kneehigh puppetry, for which they are worldwide-renowned. This includes Jasper, Maxim’s faithful dog, and it takes his new mistress some time to get the pesky pet under control. The atmosphere throughout is foreboding and brooding, thrilling and fraught with tension. One of the many secrets that comes to light are the misdemeanours of the raffish man-about-town Jack Farell, who is banned from the house and is ultimately unsuccessful in his mean tricks.
The design is remarkable, allowing for layers of action at any one time. It also suggests the loathsome lonely feelings that the mansion stirs without its former glory. And the use of fishermen in sou’westers singing hearty sea shanties gives it a real authenticity. Rice really plays to Kneehigh’s strengths in this intense, inventive and immersive show of theatrical magic.