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Review of Rebecca by Kneehigh Theatre at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

While watching Kneehigh Theatre's interpretation (I use the word advisedly), I imagined a ninety-four year old lady in the audience. When she was seventeen in 1938 she settled down on an evening and read this new novel by Daphne du Maurier. She was gripped by the twists and turns, by the creepy and devilish Mrs Danvers, by the atmospheric detail of the estate of Manderley and its surrounding area. My fictional seventeen year old was gripped. Seventy-seven years later her seventy-one year old son took her to the local theatre to see that novel, Rebecca on stage. During the performance that lady thought she had taken too many of the drugs her doctor had prescribed.

It's safe to say that for the purist of du Maurier, Rebecca doesn't quite give you what you either might want or expect. What it does though is create a very fun and inventive interpretation. We have the eleven strong and multi-skilled cast performing dance routines, singing sea shanties, playing musical instruments on stage and yes, acting alongside a puppet dog. It shouldn't work, but it does. It even in the sometimes quite bizarre environment manages to tell the story (with obvious omissions). It truly is much better than it deserves to be and if you can fly with the style provides a great evening of entertainment.

At the centre of the action are three very strong performances and one that you will either get uproariously or be irritated by. First the sure bets. The delightfully delicate Imogen Sage is a most wonderful Mrs de Winter, portraying the huge transition that the character takes during the story with ease. The character too frightened to mention a cracked vase early on is a very different person to that of the last few minutes, but the passage is acted perfectly to make it believable.

More clear cut is Emily Raymond's wicked and cold Mrs Danvers. From that opening stare at Mrs de Winter it is clear she is a piece of work. Raymond is perfect with sleek backed hair and stern face at all times, it is a very scary stalking performance. Andy Williams as Giles is also another well pitched performance, careful in his interpretation so as to never to give away the true motives too early. Quite perfect.

The marmite performance I suspect is Katy Owen. From many in the audience that I was overhearing (as I like to do), she was the star of the show as Robert. Small, yet super big in performance, she was indeed a scene stealer and personally I loved her (albeit not the star of the show) including those foolish phone calls and dance moments. I have no doubt though that for those teetering on liking the style of the production, she could have tipped them over the edge.

Another star of the show is the set. One of the most rugged and living breathing I have seen, creating somehow both the tough Cornish coastline and the house of Manderley. It must prove tough work for the cast to traverse, but director Emma Rice still manages to keep things flowing at all times with set changes never an issue as we are either listening to a song or watching a dance. I also loved the movement of time revealed on boards, banners or clothes. A very clever touch. Also neat was the "easter egg" dance routine at the start of the second act, that allowed time for people to return, while also providing entertainment for those already there.

One troubling point I did have and I shall return to my now no doubt startled ninety-four year old for this, were the two moments of swearing in the show. Swearing doesn't offend me (I am a fan of Tarantino), but I don't recall du Maurier using f**k and it was the most incongruous thing of the whole evening and so utterly pointless.

However there is much more to love with Kneehigh's Rebecca than to hate and it is always good to see a challenging different take on something once in a while. I left happy and thrilled and wanting to take the puppet dog home with me.

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Performance viewed: Wednesday 11th November, 2015 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate).

Rebecca runs until Saturday 14th November, 2015 before continuing its tour. Details here: http://www.rebeccatheplay.com/

For further details visit the Royal & Derngate website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/


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