Review by David Munro
LAST night I dreamt I went to Manderley………and
woke up in the Richmond Theatre watching a very
pedestrian and unsatisfying performance of Rebecca.
As I am sure everyone knows from the film, if not the book, that
Rebecca is the story of a mousy little girl who marries Maxim
de Winter, a rich and dashing Cornish landowner and widower, only
to find that the ghost of his ex-wife, Rebecca, looms large in
Rebecca was apparently everything the present Mrs de Winter
(she is never given a name in the book) is not.
Rebecca’s memory is kept alive by Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper
of Manderley (the house owned by Maxim), and who was besotted
by Rebecca and resents the new marriage.
The book shows how the second Mrs de Winter overcomes her shyness
and Rebecca’s memory when she learns that Maxim hated Rebecca
and killed her; a fact which results in blackmail and the ultimate
destruction of Manderley by Mrs Danvers by fire, although this
latter event is only hinted at in the book.
Frank McGuiness, as adaptor of Daphne Du Maurier’s dramatic
romance, has done a fairly straightforward, if uninspired, adaptation
of the novel which Patrick Mason has staged against a backdrop
which appears to be an abstract rendering of a fore shore and
While this enables the action to move fairly briskly along, it
leaves the actors having to rely on a few props and their own
abilities to develop the narrative. Its main effect, however,
is to totally destroy the brooding menace and beauty that Du Maurier
summons up in her book.
Such a style of production throws a heavy burden on the actors
and, regrettably, I have to say that with the notable exception
of Elizabeth Dermot-Walsh they fail to live up to their allotted
Nigel Havers, as Maxim de Winter,
has no charm and he goes through the motions rather than the emotions
of the part like a well drilled puppet.
Maureen Beattie’s Mrs Danvers starts as she means to go
on with a high pitched barnstorming performance which leaves no
room for surprise at her final collapse and leaves one wondering
why she was in charge of the house in the first place.
A performance which is mirrored by the other villain of the piece,
Rebecca’s cousin and lover, Jack Favell, played by Guy Williams,
who only lacks a moustache and cape to distinguish him from any
other scene-chewing villain of a Victorian melodrama.
Amanda Waldy, as an understanding neighbour, and Ian Barritt,
as Colonel Julyan, the local magistrate, both do the best they
can with their stock characters without vesting them with any
semblance of reality, although perhaps this was more due to the
script that their performances.
Elizabeth Dermot-Walsh was, as I have mentioned, the exception;
she captures the childlike quality of the original character and
portrays her development into Maxims support and helpmeet with
charm and believability.
It was a performance which demanded more support from her co-thespians
than she received.
Had the rest of the cast or production matched her portrayal
of Du Maurier’s heroine, it could have been a wonderful
evening in the theatre.
As it was, one was left, like Rebecca, with a skeleton of the
story and nothing with which to flesh it out into any semblance
of dramatic life - a wasted opportunity and evening.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, adapted for the stage by
Directed by Patrick Mason.
Designer, Robert Jones.
Lighting, Howard Harrison.
Sound, Simon Baker.
Music, Conor Linehan.
CAST: Nigel Havers; Elizabeth Dermot-Walsh; Maureen Beattie; Margaret
Robertson; Martin Stanbridge; Michael Hucks; Jenna Renshaw; John
Nicholas; Gregor Henderson-Begg; Amanda Waldy; Ian Barrrit; Guy
Presented by H.M. T ennant.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ
Mon, May 11 – Sat, May 16, 2005
Matinees Wed. & Sat 2.30pm.
Box Office: 020 8940 0088