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Rebecca (Kneehigh - Tour)

Emma Rice's new adaptation sees Daphne du Maurier's brooding saga given a light touch

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Stormy relationship: Tristan Sturrock as Maxim de Winter and Imogen Sage as his Mrs de Winter in Rebecca

It is a brave director who will tackle Daphne du Maurier's iconic Gothic tale of jealously and wrest it from the classic clutches of Hitchcock to the confines of a curtainless, one-set stage.

But acclaimed Kneehigh Theatre's joint artistic director Emma Rice courageously grapples with the haunting tale, creating a highly watchable piece peopled with larger-than-life characters and accompanied by live music.

Sou-westered shanties, jazz hands, heavy breathing and the ever-present breaking waves create a soundscape to flesh out the episodic and somewhat sketchy storytelling.

Rice's production is fast-paced and full of movement (some rather strange - such as scrambling up a four-foot step and the odd backward roly-poly) and fine detail, particularly the wonderfully observed dog whose second half disappearance goes strangely unnoticed in the dysfunctional household.

'Her vulnerability and awkwardness is palpable'

Interspersed comedy switches the prevailing mood between malevolence and amusement, cutting through any building atmosphere but creating an entertaining whole.

Newcomer Imogen Sage is convincing as the timid, naïf Mrs de Winter II swamped by the ever-present memory of her glamorous and beloved presumed-drowned predecessor. Her vulnerability and awkwardness is palpable, and her blossoming into a veritable powerhouse believable. Excellent casting.

Kneehigh stalwart Tristan Sturrock plays the urbane but cold master of Manderley with few shades of grey. Cold fish Maxim certainly carries a darkness and temper but his later histrionics seem overdone, somewhat obliterating the enduring mystery of why he is the only person to believe Rebecca evil.

Lizzie Winkler and Andy Williams are tremendous fun as Bea and Giles, wringing every ounce of exuberance from their larger-than-life parts while musician, actor, stand-up comic and Bo Diddler Morris dancer Ewan Wardrop is mesmerising as charismatic bad boy Jack Favell.

The very capable Emily Raymond is just too young for the dour Mrs Danvers and, despite her poker face and unbending posture, does not exude the expected menace and manipulation - not helped by her Busby Berkeley-esque soft shoe shuffle.

Completing the versatile and talented cast are Richard Clewes as faithful benign Frith; Robert Burgess, Samuel Martin and Emily May Smith as sundry fishermen, servants and allcomers, and tour de force Katy Owen whose Robert and Ben are quite delightful.

And the staging is a star: award-winning Leslie Travers' strange concoction of a boat with wine cellar, abruptly ending staircases, and hand-held windows is truly inspired, lending itself to serve as beach house, seashore, woods and mansion with little more than deftly added cushions, drapes and branches.

Rebecca continues at Theatre Royal Plymouth until 28 February before visiting Bath, Wycombe, Richmond, Cambridge, Canterbury, Salford, Eastbourne, Cheltenham, Birmingham, Malvern, Newcastle and Truro

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