Rebecca is Daphne Du Maurier’s most famous book, and rightly so as it possesses all the qualities I love in a novel – suspense, romance and seriously chilling throughout. I expected this production to mimic these qualities, however, Emma Rice and Kneehigh bravely challenged the norm creating a rather unusual yet captivating thriller.
I would like to start by applauding the set design, as the stage showed three scenes of a spooky beach, shipwreck and ballroom simultaneously that fused together so seamlessly, capturing the very nature of this Cornish seaside tale.The first act began with a chilling scene in which a sunken boat descended down onto the stage with the late Mrs de Winter’s corpse hanging below it, when suddenly the stage crew came to life as a group of Cornish fisherman burst into song. This was certainly when I realised that this would be no ordinary adaptation, it was however, refreshing and I was instantly hooked on what was to come.
I personally did not laugh once whilst reading Rebecca and I most certainly did not expect to before the first act! Enter Maxim de Winter’s comical relatives, house staff and puppet dog, Jasper. I particularly enjoyed young Welsh footman, Robert Tonkin (played by the fantastic Katy Owen) who added a dimension of unexpected laughs whilst divulging a crude diary of his mother’s menopause over the telephone and dancing energetically around the stage with Maxim’s slightly outrageous sister, Bea and her husband Giles. Incredibly, Katy Owen transformed herself into Ben, a small trembling boy living on the beach waiting for his father to return after being lost at sea. The actress seriously impressed with her ability to play polar opposite characters so successfully from scene to scene. Whilst Robert, Bea and Giles added tones of humour, the sinister Mrs Danvers truly terrified me as she almost haunted the stage with her bitter presence.
Whilst the first act was an enjoyable surprise, I hoped the second would hold more suspense... And I was not let down. What a turn around! The set became dark and the characters turned serious (aside from a few lines by young Robert). I found Mr and Mrs de Winter’s (Tristan Sturrock and Imogen Sage) scene in the boathouse captivating as Maxim confesses to the murder of his late wife Rebecca. However, nothing can top the theatrics of the final scene in which the cast fill the stage with batons of fire... I won’t spoil it for those who aren’t familiar with the story but strongly suggest you go and see it for yourself!
The first production I have seen from Kneehigh but it will not be the last. An overall very unexpected yet satisfying adaptation which pleased all at the Newcastle Theatre Royal.
Rebecca will be shown at the Newcastle Theatre Royal until Saturday 16th May from 7:30pm. For more information go to www.theatreroyal.co.uk or call 08448 11 21 21.