Daphne du Maurier, adapted by Frank McGuinness
Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

Production photo
Production photo

One of Theatre by the Lake's three main house productions for the summer season is Frank McGuinness's adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's famous novel Rebecca, famously filmed by Alfred Hitchcock starring Laurence Olivier.

Maxim de Winter runs into American Mrs van Hopper in Monte Carlo and falls for her servant, eventually taking her back to Cornwall to his family home of Manderley as his wife. As the second Mrs de Winter—her husband's first wife Rebecca drowned only a few months earlier—she finds herself living rather in the shadow of her predecessor, especially in the eyes of Mrs Danvers, the sinister housekeeper who still idolises her former mistress. When a ship runs aground near to the house, it uncovers some surprising information about Rebecca's death.

The eleven-strong cast performs the multiple scenes on designer Martin Johns's permanent set of a crumbling stone staircase surrounded by fallen masonry and broken furniture. The story comes across quite well for much of the time, but there are scenes that seem flat and underworked or just too drawn out.

Leading the cast are Greg Wagland as Maxim de Winter and Lindsay Allen as his second wife with Angela Bain as Mrs Danvers. However some of the most notable performances come from those playing smaller roles. Sandra Duncan is superb in all three of her roles: the acid-tongued American Mrs van Hopper, dotty old grandma and Rebecca's former doctor. Heather Phoenix hits the stage with a bundle of energy as Maxim's sister Beatrice, and Peter Macqueen plays her husband Giles just right as the world-wearied, upper class old cynic who doesn't care what he says to anyone. Michelle Long is very good as the maid Clarice, as is Nicholas Goode as the 'simple' boy Ben.

This production tells du Maurier's famous story reasonably well but doesn't really get across the suspense or the tension of the novel or the film. There are some very good performances and some clever use of projections on the cyc cloth from lighting designer Nick Beadle plus some great atmospheric sound effects from sound designer James Earls Davis.

Reviewer: David Chadderton