When the second Mrs de Winter surges forward onto the beach at the opening of Kneehigh Theatre's radical reworking of Daphne du Maurier's iconic windswept classic, it isn't clear whether it's the storm she's just walked through or the last breath of her predecessor that soundtracks her every triumphant sashay into the night. Either way, when she utters the novel's immortal opening line about how last night she dreamt of Manderley, the seaside house where her widowed older husband Max took her following a whirlwind romance, it gives new resonance to everything that follows.
Rather than offer up some slavish sub-Hitchcockian homage, Emma Rice's production of her own adaptation more resembles a late night Freudian explosion in Mrs de Winter's head that gives her a very rude awakening. As she stumbles through designer Leslie Travers' take on Manderley built of higgledy-piggledy staircases that climb to chandelier-adorned corridors linked by pirate ship planks and an upturned lifeboat, the unseen ghost of the first Mrs de Winter who gives the play its title looms large.
Much of the first half is a riot of madcap fancy dress dance routines, a chamber folk chorus singing sea shanties, a crotch-sniffing puppet dog and a quicksilver comic turn from Katy Owen as sprite-like boy servant Robert. Only when Emily Raymond's Mrs Danvers cons Imogen Sage's naïve newlywed into wearing a funereally black see-through frock once sported by Rebecca do things take a leap into the dark side. As Mrs de Winter gradually takes charge from Tristan Sturrock's emasculated Maxim, the story becomes her getting of wisdom as the past is finally set ablaze in this eye-poppingly irreverent reinvention.
The Herald, October 21st 2015