Du Maurier’s novels are atmospheric, elegiac, intelligent – and this play shares many of the same qualities. It’s also thought-provoking, temperate, exquisitely constrained by the morals and standards of the time (the later years of the war), and packing one or two powerful punches in its revelations.
The elegance and formality of the country house backdrop is beautifully evoked, not just in Helen Goddard’s immaculate library set but also in the tight, clipped performances and simmering tensions below a sheen of respectability.
To reveal anything much of the plot would be unfair, but the central premise sees the surprise return home of a soldier believed killed in action, and the consequent unravelling of the lives of those around him, who are possibly more altered by the war itself than this hero who has been through years of hell.
Gerald Kyd is suitably ravaged and bitter as the returning soldier, while Barbara Kirby as the Nanny, David Verrey as sage old friend Sir Ernest and Alisdair Simpson as the kindly neighbour Richard put in important supporting performances. There’s also a fine turn from 13-year-old Luke Nunn as the bewildered but stoic son Robin.
But it’s Marianne Oldham who carries the lion’s share of the drama as Diana, the grieving wife whose new world is turned upside down. She’s variously strong and adrift, in love and heartbroken, dutiful and rebellious, and she seems to relish each emotion as much as any other.
Director Kate Saxon works her cast hard to allow glimpses of the underlying turbulence to show through the stiff upper lips. There are moments of real impact that help keep the drama unfolding after a carefully modulated opening scene.
And if du Maurier’s writing seems a little stifled at times, and the production accordingly a tad starchy, there’s plenty of good work on display to counteract the occasional lapse of tension.