Rebecca

After all the hype from it’s reception elsewhere in Europe combined with the legacy of the original film version, the intriguing yet simple plot and the clear characterisation in Daphne du Maurier's book, the musical of Rebecca by Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay, translated by Christopher Hampton at Charing Cross Theatre is a major letdown.

The failure to rise to the challenge of Du Maurier’s great work disappointing

It all starts fairly well. Lauren Jones as the Second Mrs de Winter makes a furtive entrance through the audience to stand shyly on the apron, completely in character. She delivers the Prologue song, Last Night I Dreamt of Manderley, the solo that looks back at the story of Manderley, the stately coastal edifice that was home to the wealthy Maxim De Winter and his first wife, Rebecca, the woman, who despite her recent death, dominates the story.

The subdued start is then thrown into the sort of stuff that makes a musical. Bustling her way through the audience New York would-be socialite Mrs van Hopper (Shirley Jameson) makes a grand arrival at the Monte Carlo hotel with I (as the script refers to the second Mrs de Winter, whom du Maurier deliberately created without a name of her own). She is Hopper’s companion. Maxim de Winter (Richard Carson) sees her and it’s love at first sight, and although the book makes this a whirlwind affair, the marriage occurs so quickly on stage as to lack credibility. However with the deed done, the Monégasque life-style is swept away and the setting moves to Manderley, where there is surprisingly little glamour.

Despite the style in which Rebecca would have lived, Nicky Shaw’s set has a spartan bedroom and a morning room with just the essential writing desk. The huge flats, with dull motifs move noisily to create the various rooms and the seashore, often changed behind a thin curtain. The visual effects used for the fire and sea also seem below par by modern standards and contribute to overall shabby feeling. The great staircase is imposing, but again heavily dull, though suited to the stern demeanour of the too-young-looking housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Kara Lane) who cuts a chilling figure standing in their midst when the great demise comes.

Both women have fine voices as does Carson, though the universal habit of belting out top notes becomes increasingly jarring. Even for a musical, Rebecca is song-heavy. The official toll of twenty-two doesn’t allow for reprises and while there are poignant numbers amongst them, most notably the title song itself, sung with passion by Kara Lane, there’s much that that might have been left to dialogue or narrative. Then there is the dodgy character of Jack Fervell, Rebecca’s cousin. Alex James-Ward looks every bit a wheeler-dealer merchant or tic-tac bookie in his loud check suit. He’s given a couple of song and dance routines that might have suited the Victorian music hall but cannot be taken seriously in this context where he becomes an out of place joke. The good news on the music front is the eighteen-piece orchestra under Robert Scott that does credit to to the score and also the energetic chorus, even though their big song and dance routine often seem out of place in this tragic tale.

Then, when the complexities of the plot become too much for yet another song, there is a strangely out of place investigative scene that delves into finding our what really happened to Rebecca and Maxim de Winter’s involvement in her tragic death. Credit to David Breeds for creating the engaging mentally challenged character of Ben whose memory plays an important part in the unfolding of the story.

Given the people involved in this production its shortcomings are surprising and the failure to rise to the challenge of Du Maurier’s great work disappointing.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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Performances

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The Blurb

Rebecca, with 22 original songs, is a gripping thriller full of intrigue and surprises that sticks closely to the original novel. Wealthy Maxim De Winter brings his naïve new wife home to his Cornish estate, Manderley, where the manipulative housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, resents the new wife’s intrusion. She persuades her that she is an unworthy replacement for the first Mrs. De Winter, the glamorous and mysterious Rebecca, who perished in a drowning accident, with tragic results...

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