Classic Rebecca will not disappoint

Rebecca at the Devonshire Park Theatre from April 13 SUS-150804-095139001
Rebecca at the Devonshire Park Theatre from April 13 SUS-150804-095139001

Daphne Du Maurier’s classic Rebecca arrives at the Devonshire Park Theatre next Monday (April 13) as part of a major UK tour. Herald reviewer Kevin Anderson took an awayday to Richmond Theatre for a sneak preview…

For many theatregoers, the whole page-to-stage process is both fascinating and, occasionally, disappointing. Some adaptations simply go through the motions, retelling the story but adding very little to it – and passing up the whole theatrical dimension.

Not so this production. The more you consider it, the more clearly you realise that this novel cries out to be dramatised. Its characters leap off the page and its plot is – like the dramatic Cornish settings – an absolute cliff-hanger. There must have been so many challenges for adapter and director Emma Rice – practical as well as artistic. This is no intimate little drama, played out in a couple of interiors with a few lighting cues to ease the story forward.

The dimensions of an epic story have to be reflected in the broad sweep of its Cornish settings: storm-battered cliffs, forbidding landscapes and brooding manor houses.

“Beautiful, untameable and free,” comments Rice. “This production is Cornish to its bones.”

The get-in will certainly be fun. Even in the capacious Richmond Theatre, the magnificent set is huge and high, and it will fill the Devonshire Park stage with a dominance that strikes the audience the moment they enter the theatre.

It’s technically brilliant, and it’s worth your ticket alone. The school groups in the Richmond audience will have had material a-plenty for their Theatre Studies projects!

Even if you know the book, go with an open mind. Of course the events of the story unfold much as Du Maurier intended them, but there are some shifts of emphasis and some characterisations that may surprise you.

Unlike the original novel, the story isn’t simply seen through one person’s eyes.

Some of the casting, too, is intriguing. The housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, is played younger than you may have expected, by an enigmatic Emily Raymond. A rival, perhaps, for Mr de Winter’s affections?

And Imogen Sage, as the new Mrs de Winter herself, has as much feistiness as fragility. “I wanted to give her more of a journey, more of a voice. She is a Mrs De Winter for the 21st Century.”

Rice’s direction is controlled, knowing and flexible. The darker side of the story is always present, but sometimes only hinted at, alongside the tension, excitement, romance and some absolutely priceless moments of humour. But Rice is only teasing: the final climax, when it arrives, is seismic.

Emma Rice herself is a Du Maurier scholar and enthusiast. “She is one of the best storytellers of all time. She has the perfect balance of character and narrative, so you are gripped at every level.”

Rightly, Chris Jordan and his Eastbourne Theatres staff are really excited about this compelling, high-quality production. If the houses at Richmond were anything to go by – packed to the rafters – Rebecca is about to take Eastbourne by storm. Wild, exhilarating, or darkly menacing storm…