When it comes to North East landmarks, Emily Raymond is in no doubt about which one tells her she’s back on good old Tyne and Wear soil.
“Pokey Nose is what we always looked for to work out where we were,” laughs the actress, who is looking forward to an upcoming North East stint as Mrs Danvers in Kneehigh theatre company’s innovative stage adaptation of classic bestseller Rebecca.
“That’s what we used to call it, anyway... and do you know, I just can’t remember what its proper name is.”
After a short descriptive aside, we decide between us that it was the 70ft folly Penshaw Monument which provided a young Emily with her bearings during regular visits to Washington during school holidays.
“My mother was born and bred in the North East,” she says. “My grandfather – her father – was the doctor of Washington Village for more than 50 years.
“My mum was also an actress and moved to London to work. Then she met my dad and had me and we stayed down south. But we always went back up north for Christmas, Easter and summer holidays. We were there often until my grandfather passed away and my grandmother moved south to be near my mum. I have such fond memories of the place.”
And she’ll be indulging them during the play’s run at Newcastle Theatre Royal from May 11-16.
“Every time I’ve been back up to Newcastle, which I have many times over the years with work (Emily has performed at the Theatre Royal with the Royal Shakespeare Company and most recently in the touring production of Abigail’s Party), I always go back to Washington and look around the place. Both my grandparents are buried there, so I go and see them and spend some time. It’s lovely.”
It’s a description the actress also applies to the production of Rebecca which is being brought to life on stage, courtesy of Kneehigh, a company familiar to North East audiences, most recently from a successful production of Brief Encounter.
Promising “Cornish romance and theatrical magic”, Emily says director Emma Rice’s production has breathed new life into Daphne du Maurier’s classic story, which has never been out of print since it was first published in 1938.
“It’s a lovely production – I mean, of course I would say that – but it really is,” she laughs.
“Although stage adaptations have been done over the years – Daphne du Maurier wrote the original one herself – Rebecca hasn’t been a particularly theatrical event and is not often done on the stage,” she continues.
“But when I heard about it and then that they wanted to see me for Mrs Danvers, I was delighted.”
For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of seeing or hearing any of the many TV, film or radio adaptations over the years (including Alfred Hitchcock’s Oscar-winning 1940 effort), the story sees Maxim de Winter (Tristan Sturrock in this production) returning to the Cornish estate of Manderley with his new bride following the mysterious death of his first wife, Rebecca. Surrounded by memories of the glamorous Rebecca, the new Mrs De Winter (Imogen Sage) sets out to uncover the secrets of the house and a past fiercely guarded by sinister housekeeper, Mrs Danvers. “My immediate reaction was, ‘Oh, she’s the really mean one’,” says Emily of her role. “And then I read the script and realised she is mean, but she’s also in a terrible way. She’s in such deep grief over the loss of Rebecca... so I think it’s a complex and interesting part to play.
“It was a story I was familiar with. I read it as a child. I saw the film and various TV productions over the years, but then when you play a part, you get involved with it in a very different way, and of course this is a new adaptation as well.”
Emily says Kneehigh, which is based but a stone’s throw from du Maurier’s home in Cornwall, has ensured the production offers “an entertaining night out” as well as a memorable retelling of a well-known story.
“They’ve very much put their stamp on it,” she says. “There’s lots of music and creativity throughout with songs and sea shanties. There’s dancing, puppetry, amazing music – really something for everybody.
“It’s definitely still Rebecca but it’s very dynamic. We’re all on stage all the time. If we’re not playing our parts, then we’re playing instruments or playing fishermen or something. I’m very proud to be part of it and am looking forward to bringing it to the Theatre Royal.”
And to saying hello to old Pokey Nose, no doubt.