Review: Rebecca at the Theatre Royal, Brighton

Should you read the book before seeing the play (or film?) I don’t know – there are arguements for both! This weekend a friend and I took my 13 year old daughter to see Rebecca, the stage adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier book. D had never read it, I had read it many years ago and had made the decision not to refresh my memories before the play. I came out, however, with a burning need to re-read the book, and the impression of the ghost of many things unsaid.

The set is often the first thing that interests me in a play .. or otherwise! First impressions count and as the curtain rose I got just the right impression. The set was part crumbling mansion, part beach and it flexed perfectly with the scenes of the story. As the play opened a corpse is lowered down and placed under a boat which then forms the centre stage, just right for the theme of the story. The cast did a great job with the musical parts of the play, songs inspired by the period and very much in line with the coastal setting. As the first half of the play progresses we meet the new Mrs de Winter, watch her meet her in-laws and the staff. This part of the play is played for laughs – Maxim de Winter’s sister Bea and her husband Giles are comic characters and the young serving boy Robert is humorous in a way that I found over-the-top and distracting from the plot. Perhaps that’s what it takes to sell a story from 1938 to audiences in 2015 – the theatre was largely full, so the recipe to turn classic novel into entertainment is working. And the dog … I nearly forgot to mention the dog! Have a look at some of the reviews on the Kneehigh Theatre site for more on whether a puppet dog is a good addition to the play.

The mood of the play took a twist at the end of the first half and the the second part was in many ways more in line with the spirit of the novel, but still there is always the issue that you can fit far more detail into a book than a play. Mrs Danvers was marvellously evil, the new Mrs de Winter’s transformation from innocent to tainted took place, and Maxim de Winter became exposed as we saw his torment. The cast did a good job as the action moved to a climax and the impossible situation that Rebecca has left as her legacy played out. But still, the book is so much more.

Watch the play, then re-read the book, or read it for the first time. The play is good – it takes you from laughter to tears – challenging the emotions is one of my key requirements for theatre – but the book is better. I’m off for a quiet read…

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