by Daphne du Maurier adapted by Emma Rice.
Tour to 5 December 2015.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 9 November at Royal & Derngate (Derngate auditorium) Northampton.
Imaginatively turns the solo experience of reading into communal spectating.
Cornwall-based Kneehigh has always celebrated the act of performance in its shows, as actors change, change aspects of the set, take-up musical instruments or – as in Daphne du Maurier’s Cornish coastal story – create an ominous shanty-singing community of seafarers.
The ensemble tone remains, even when, as here, there’s little doubling of roles. The main case is the remarkable playing of two young lads by Katy Owen. She brings keen pathos to apparently homeless Ben, witness to key events and fearful of being dispatched to an asylum (you might join the protest if that happened).
Then there’s keen young Robert, servant at Manderley, for whom all’s in the future in a story so concerned with the past, and in whom the telephone’s ring brings out an inner Mo Farah.
Actors shouldn’t work with children or animals. Emma Rice’s production of her own adaptation applies the saying to an adult playing near-children and to a puppet dog. This Manderley hound is handled with beautiful detail, creating the affection lacking among the humans. It can also show-off as shamelessly as the show itself when the company turns to Knees-up for dance, song or humour of more entertainment than narrative value.
Mostly, though, events sweep forward with storm-force energy. Black-garbed and eye-lined with sinister repression, Emily Raymond’s Mrs Danvers maintains a frosty politeness before revealing, with the arrogance of infatuation, her obsession over the dead Rebecca, whose name resounds round Manderley, while Maxim’s second wife is unnamed – though Rice gives her a new trajectory.
After taking, inexplicably, a sophisticated Rebecca-like pose for the Manderley ball, she finally acquires a very sudden new toughness, which protects her but is also a kind of victory for her predecessor’s beyond-the-grave revenge.
Theatrically, the show is ever-alert, if occasionally hyper-active as young Robert. Manderley’s ruined glory can by momentarily reconstituted, as in a dream, when the story requires; the all-important boat rises to hang like evidence over the central characters.
Though there’s no disguising the story’s medicus ex machina conclusion, Imogen Sage’s initially nervous wife and Tristan Sturrock’s angst-taut Maxim ensure this is another memorable Kneehigh creation.
Mrs de Winter: Imogen Sage.
Beatrice: Lizzie Winkler.
Frith/Doctor: Richard Clews.
Giles/Coastguard: Andy Williams.
Robert/Ben: Katy Owen.
Maxim de Winter: Tristan Sturrock/Ewan Wardrop.
Mrs Danvers: Emily Raymond.
Jack Favell: Ewan Wardrop/Samuel Martin.
Fisherman: Barbara Hockaday, Samuel Martin, Emily May Smith.
Director: Emma Rice.
Designer: Leslie Travers.
Lighting: Tim Lutkin.
Sound: Simon Baker.
Musical Director: Ian Ross.
Choreographer: Emma Rice, Ewan Wardrop.
Puppet director: Sarah Wright.
9-14 Nov 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Royal and Derngate Northampton 01604 624811 www.royalandderngate.co.uk
16-21 Nov Mon-Thu; Sat 7.30pm; Fri 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm BSL Signed Thu Oxford Playhouse 01865 305305 www.oxfordplayhouse.com
23-28 Nov 7.45pm Mat Thu 2pm; Sat 3pm Audio-described/BSL Signed Thu 7.45pm; Captioned Sat 3pm Lyceum Theatre Sheffield 0114 249 6000 www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk
30 Nov-5 Dec 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2pm Mayflower Theatre Southampton 02380 711811 www.mayflolwer.org.uk