Richard Lutz takes a pew at Birmingham Rep for the Daphne du Maurier thriller
What better theatre group than Kneehigh to produce Daphne du Maurier’s country house melodrama Rebecca? The troupe is based in Cornwall, the writer lived in the county and the play is located along the its rocky shores and coves.
The company gets it right for so many reasons.
Rebecca is, of course, a whodunit (or a whydunit) of the highest order, winning an Oscar in 1941. But today more than 70 years later, its plot can creak at times. It can feel out of step, old fashioned, dated.
But Kneehigh, under director Emma Rice, resuscitates it and gives it a steely edge that a modern audience can grasp hold of rather than just enjoy as a museum piece.
There are jokey bits to enliven this 1930’s juggernaut of a novel/movie/play. There’s onstage music to break it up a bit so it doesn’t feel like a tired country house mystery story. And there are solid performances from the entire cast.
The plot is well known. Country gent Maxim de Winter (very ’30’s, that name) returns to his beloved Cornish estate with his second wife after a cruise. He returns to the shadow and memories of his beloved first wife – Rebecca. All feel her ghostly presence. And the nasty housekeeper Mrs Danvers is there to make everyone feel uncomfortable, jealous and guilty about the past.
The director and production team emphasise good lighting, fine acting and sterling work at breaking up the big Rep stage with multi- platform sets at different levels to re-create both the wild coast and the confines of a rambling mansion by the sea.
Top marks from actress Imogen Sage , who goes from frumpy second wife to hard-nailed vamp. And some great comic turns from the supporting team of Lizzie Winkler and Andy Williams, straight out of PG Wodehouse, as a pair of sizzled relatives up to their eyes not only in booze but also country home mayhem.
Yes, Rebecca – subject, by the way, of plagiarism rows when first published – does show its age. But thanks to the high production values, it keeps an audience intrigued and with a shock or two to unpin them from their seats.
Until 2nd May. Tickets: 0121 236 4455.
Also at the Festival Theatre, Malvern from 4th-9th May. Tickets: 01604-892277.