Emma Rice adds fresh new twists to Du Maurier's classic tale.
Adapted from Daphne Du Maurier’s 1938 bestselling novel, Rebecca comes to Southampton’s Mayflower this week. However, Emma Rice’s production, while drawing closely on both Du Maurier’s original text and Hitchcock’s much loved 1940 classic, adds fresh new twists to the popular story of seduction, jealousy, and secrets.
The narrative of the famous text focuses on a young woman who falls in love with a wealthy widower, named Maxim de Winter. After a fortnight together, she agrees to marry Maxim, who then takes her to his mansion, the famous Manderley estate. There she encounters the intense housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who was extremely attached to Maxim’s first wife. The new Mrs. de Winter is subsequently forced to live in the shadow of the eponymous Rebecca, thanks not only to the cruel behavior of Mrs. Danvers, but also Maxim’s increasingly coldness towards her. However, everything is not as it seems, and over the course of the story, secrets are revealed that put everything into a fresh perspective.
Leslie Travers’ stage design sets the backdrop for Rice’s adaptation, as Rebecca’s doomed rowing boat is lowered slowly onto the centre of the stage at the beginning of the show. The boat remains in place for the entirety of the first half; characters walk over it, sit on it, and climb on it, but fail to explicitly acknowledge its presence. The boat represents the lost Rebecca and her inescapable, looming presence over Manderley and its inhabitants. Mrs. de Winter consequently finds herself to be very lonely in the grand house, but she is soon to discover the secrets lurking within its walls.
In addition to Travers’ impressive and innovative stage design, music is also of great importance within the performance. The eerie Mrs. Danvers, played here by Emily Raymond, frequently emerges from the shadows to the sounds of a discordant refrain. Intense moments are also accompanied by melancholy sea shanties performed by a chorus of fishermen, who firmly anchor the play in its Cornish location.
Imogen Sage gave a fantastic performance as the ‘new’ Mrs. de Winter, her initial youth and innocence emphasised by her simple check dresses and natural hairstyle. Although she feels overwhelmed and displaced as the mistress of the house, it isn’t long before Mrs. de Winter begins to assert her authority over her marital home and its inhabitants.
Du Maurier subtitled her text ‘a study in jealousy’ and this is exactly what Rice’s production draws out – at least at certain points. However, I felt that it was not completely committed to the darker and more psychological elements, which arguably helped to make the original text so popular in the first place. Rice certainly gives a new spin on the story by adding the character of Robert, who was played with wonderful exuberance and enthusiasm by Katy Owen. Robert became something of a favourite with the crowd and always managed to make them laugh. However, at times, I felt that the juxtaposition between the tense scenes involving Mrs. de Winter jarred with the bouncing presence of Robert rushing across the stage.
Rebecca will be showing at the Mayflower until the 5th of December. Tickets are available here.