A/V Room









Classic tale is re-told in skeletal form

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 their marriage.

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 sea.

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 tasks.

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 Frank McGuiness.
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 Williams.
Presented by H.M. T ennant.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ
Mon, May 11 – Sat, May 16, 2005
Evenings 7.45pm
Matinees Wed. & Sat 2.30pm.
Box Office: 020 8940 0088

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