Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Rebecca

H M Tennent Limited , New Theatre Cardiff , February-02-05

H M Tennent is a legendary name in theatre production, having presented many top quality, star enriched spectaculars and excellent serious drama for more than half a century. They have put together a top quality team to bring us this fascinating interpretation of Du Maurier’s classic to the contemporary stage.
 
It is the set of RSC and National Theatre (the English one that is) award winning designer, Robert Jones that establishes the tone of the production. Kept a secret until the plush red velvet New Theatre curtain rises it was no brooding mansion before us, but the sea, waves rising in the distance before gently rolling on to the pebbled beach that lay at the foot of Manderley. A triumph in the craft of stage projection.
 
A winsome  ‘Diana-like’ figure gazes out across the horizon. Actress Elisabeth Dermot-Walsh delicately turns and whispers those famous opening words, she continues this gentle, loving and admirably realistic performance throughout the play. She is quickly rescued from being the unpaid companion of a mindless, wealthy American, cruising lady, a spot-on little cameo from Margaret Robertson, by the handsome Maxim de Winter, on the cruise to bury the memory of his recently departed wife. The handsome, charmer Nigel Havers who along with this well loved story has ensured a sell out week for the New Theatre, is by no means the sinister clichéd figure that has come to be associated with this part.
 
He gives a much more well-rounded and realistic picture of a man struggling with his past and desperately trying to make a decent future for himself, despite the awful circumstances of his first wife’s death continually coming back to haunt him. He even demonstrates genuine feelings towards his new wife. This takes the play completely out of the old melodrama mode, giving us a very believable psychological thriller with a touch of almost Brechtian theatricality.
 
Maureen Beattie’s Mrs Danvers continues the more real approach with again a much more believable personality nevertheless strong and whilst remaining pretty obsessed with the memory of Rebecca has abandoned the pantomime villain approach to the role. We question was she in love with Rebecca or even was she her mother? So strongly does she register the bond.  Her attempts to drive a wedge between de Winter and his new young little wife are what you would expect from an one in such strained circumstances.
 
With every scene taking place on bare boards in front of the pebbled beach, just the occasional elegant chair to indicate an indoor setting we are given the opportunity to be much more concerned with the inner feelings of all the characters. This creates a greater demand on the actors to bring about a much stronger degree of truth to their playing.
 
It also produces a demand on this top producing management to demonstrate that they can do casting just as well as the National or the RSC. They have responded to the task pretty faultlessly. Ian Barritt and John Nicholas give us very convincing English gentleman. Martyn Stanbridge is equally convincing if not quite so gentlemanly. Gregor Henderson-Begg gives two very spirited performances, first as the cheeky servant Robert and then as Ben, a boy with little mind who might change the whole course of the plot.
 
Back projection comes back into its own again for the tragic ending; this along with the brooding sea at the beginning, a sweeping staircase and candles lit dimly through a gauze back cloth bring a touch of magic to the event. Leaving us all to imagine that, last night we too could have dreamt of Manderley

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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