Rebecca, adapted by Emma Rice and performed by KneeHigh Theatre.
CONTAINS SPOILERS (FOR THE PLAY AND BOOK)
Rebecca is my favourite book and so of course when I heard that Kneehigh Theatre were putting on a production of Rebecca, I was intrigued – but also concerned. That’s always the way when your favourite book is being adapted for stage and anything could happen.
Before the day rolled around, I heard opposing accounts of the production, so naturally I was apprehensive.
There was no need.
While the adaptation was perhaps not what I expected, in many ways it was better. So much better. I can’t remember the last time I walked out of a theatre thinking, ‘I need to go again.’ In fact, I didn’t want to get out of my seat – I wanted to stay and wait for the evening show (we went to a matinee). I wasn’t expecting it to be that good, and as a long term du Maurier fan, I was delighted.
This was not the straight forward Rebecca adaptation that you’ve seen before. This was so much more. But if you had told me that Rebecca with sea shanties, musical instruments, comedy, and a puppet dog would actually be good, then I would have laughed. But it was so fantastic and so clever.
To start with, the amount of detail that went into the production was staggering. From the curling R monographs in the staircase and on the vases, to the lines lifted directly from the original book and so much more.
The set itself was spectacular and really cleverly created to reflect both the beach and Manderley itself. Rebecca’s boat, Je Reviens, was part of the set itself, meaning that Rebecca’s body and her boat was present on set throughout the whole play (until the end, when the ghost of her is FINALLY shaken off), echoing that ghostly sense that is present throughout the book.
The casting was pretty perfect too. The actress who played Mrs de Winter was pretty much how I imagined her and she played the role perfectly, showing all the anxiety and uncertainty that the character has, before the transformation later on after Maxim has confessed. The other roles were well cast – and I particularly enjoyed the casting of Robert, the footman who gained a greater role – and a comedy one at that – in the play. It was fantastically handled and showed how life would have continued on in the house, despite this tragedy lurking in the background.
The story told in the play took the essential elements of the story and kept the core heart and feeling. Lighter moments were inserted and they worked well – coming particularly from Robert, Beatrice, and Jasper the dog, played by a puppet. It sounds ridiculous, but it was very clever and well done. There were great comedic moments too, which sounds odd, but it was done very well and just worked.
The music worked well too, and I loved the atmospheric songs sung by the cast. It really fitted the mood and atmosphere. All in all, it was really sharp, clever, and all consuming. I couldn’t – and still haven’t – stopped thinking about it. I only wish I could have seen it a second time.