Daphne du Maurier, adapted by Frank McGuinness
Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, and touring
It's all of fifteen years since I last saw Rebecca. I'd forgotten what a powerful drama it is.
Of course, a lot has happened in the past decade and a half. Frank McGuinness has put his own slant on the story and come up with a funnier version than the du Maurier original I remember. And technological advances mean that video can conjure up various images which enhance the production.
From the beginning Jon Driscoll's projection magnificently portrays rolling waves around the Manderley mansion, home of the de Winters. Suddenly housekeeper Mrs Danvers walks down a staircase through the waves - a thrilling start.
Other theatres which favour video in most of their productions would do well to emulate Driscoll's occasionally used but totally effective work.
Most of the middle-aged women who turned up on the night I attended the Regent were there because of one man: charmer Nigel Havers, as suave today as he was in the '80s when he became an established television star. They're not disappointed as he gives a sparkling and unconventional performance as Maxim de Winter, the man who struggles to eradicate the presence of his dead first wife Rebecca.
As Mrs Danvers, Maureen Beattie comes over as a real battleaxe with more power over Manderley than a woman in her position ought to have. However, Beattie doesn't have the chilling disposition nor mysterious aloofness that would make her character unforgettable.
Elisabeth Dermot-Walsh gives an exceptional performance as the second Mrs de Winter. Initially she charms with her naïve innocence. Whenever she faces Mrs Danvers she hunches her shoulders as she doubts her ability to attain the popularity that Rebecca enjoyed. Dermot-Walsh's transformation into a confident, self-assured, supportive wife when Maxim reveals he didn't love Rebecca is immediate yet totally credible.
There are also noteworthy contributions from Gregor Henderson-Begg as the intellectually challenged boy on the beach and Ian Barritt as bumbling Giles.
It's obvious that director Patrick Mason has decided to concentrate on the text rather than opting for a lavish design. The splendour normally associated with Manderley is missing although the richness of the language and the humour are sufficient compensations.
The show has been on the road for almost three months now and I suspect there've been several changes since the start - no doubt with future dates in the West End and on Broadway in mind.
Rebecca has pace, style and sophisitication. Fans of Nigel Havers will no doubt find plenty to enthuse about in his performance. It's more than a one-man show, though; purists may miss some of the usual du Maurier traits but this Rebecca is a fresh, vibrant look at an acknowledged masterpiece.
"Rebecca" tours to Richmond upon Thames, Woking, Canterbury and Norwich until May 7th
Reviewer: Steve Orme