Daphne Du Maurier’s classic novel gets a tragi-comic makeover for the stage but not everyone is going to be amused.
The production by Kneehigh Theatre, who brought Brief Encounter here a few years ago, includes a lavish and labyrinthine set that capture’s the book’s Cornish seaside setting and the Manderley estate perfectly.
Creative use of fiddlers, ukelele players, cello and voice add dramatic tension and there are special effects galore but its humour is clearly divisive.
Yet I, for one, thought director Emma Rice was bold and achieves her aim of creating gripping entertainment and a good night out at the theatre.
I’d wholeheartedly recommend it although Du Maurier purists might need to take it with a pinch of theatrical salt. Don’t come expecting a replica of the Hitchcock film .
Rice admits in the programme she has “taken liberties” with the text and these include creating plenty of laughs, even during one of the book’s most dramatic scene’s when Rebecca’s body is washed up.
Even dastardly devil Jack Favell becomes a dandy, spraying glitter confetti in the air, and, heck, there are even laughs from the Gothic nemesis of Mrs Danvers, played by Emily Raymond.
However, the character everyone will either love or hate is a Welsh manservant played by a woman (Katy Owen). Her slapstick interpretive dance moves will leave you in stitches or unmoved, as plenty in the audience were.
The show starts with Mrs de Winter (the new one, played brilliantly by Imogen Sage) dressed in a red kimono describing her dream of Manderley. Then, behind her, comes a dramatic lowering of the decaying body of Rebecca, the late Mrs de Winter, into the sea.
Rebecca is placed under a boat, and its deck becomes the polished floor of the inside of the mansion – just one of many moments of ingenuity.
Maxim de Winter (Tristan Sturrock) and the new Mrs de Winter then arrive back at Manderley from their honeymoon in Venice and, awaiting them, is Maxim’s larger-than-life sister Beatrice (Lizzie Winkler) intrigued at brother’s new bride.
Despite the interjections of physical comedy and the odd Charleston-style dance routine – a touch Downton Abbey – there are moments of really sinister behaviour as the plot unfolds.
Imogen Sage and Tristan Sturrock give excellent performances but it’s Kneehigh’s imaginative presentation that deserves the ultimate accolade.