KNEEHIGH’S brilliant new adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s classic Rebecca, at Bath until 14th March, is a perfect illustration of how the art and craft of live theatre can come together to leapfrog expectations and make unforgettable magic.
The novel was published in 1938, followed two years later by the Hitchcock film whose images were burned indelibly on the consciousness of generations.
Set on the Cornish coast, it’s a murder mystery whose solution is, in the best tradition, kept not just UNTIL but beyond the final curtain.
Of course, the Cornish-based Kneehigh is the ideal company to bring the show to the stage, and Emma Rice’s adaptation takes a funny and inventive look at the familiar story.
The sea is a visceral presence, evoked as much by shanties and sou’westers as by boats and floating bodies. In Kneehigh terms, this is King of Prussia meets Brief Encounter, true to period, quirky and powerful. While the staff dance in the crumbling hall of Manderley, the birds of doom gather overhead.
Most of the audience knows what’s going to happen, and when, but it doesn’t decrease the tension one iota as the story plays out on a stage doubling as the big house and the shoreline, with its fisherman’s cottage converted into a love-nest.
As always with Kneehigh, this is an ensemble piece, but the focus is on Maxim de Winter and his new bride, and on the menacing housekeeper Mrs Danvers.
Tristan Sturrock returns again to the company he first joined 25 years ago to play the anguished Maxim, with recent Central School graduate Imogen Sage as his new bride, and Emily Raymond as the obsessed and controlling Mrs Danvers.
In this production, there are marvellous comedic, and poignantly sad, moments from Katy Owen as the young footman Robert and the orphaned Ben. Lizzie Winkler and Andy Williams are Maxim’s loud and drunken sister and brother in law, and Richard Clews buttles and doctors with delight.
Ewan Wardrop, known to local audiences for his solo Formby show, as well as working with Adventures in Motion Pictures and at Lyme Regis, is the louche Favell as well as choreographing this physically demanding show.
Don’t miss it. This is Kneehigh at its marvellous best.
Photographs by Steve Tanner