with Gareth Thomas as Giles Lacy
Director - Philip Franks, Designer - Russell Craig, Lighting Designer - Howard Harrision, Music - Matthew Scott.
I have a confession to make - "Rebecca" may be incredibly famous, but until seeing this play, I knew nothing about it other than it involved the second Mrs de Winter, and a mad housekeeper obsessed with the first Mrs de Winter. Plus the opening line of the play.
The play opens with Mrs de Winter (Frances Grey) standing in a spotlight at the front of an otherwise darkened stage, giving the "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley" speech. We then go to Manderley as the stage lights come up, where Frith the butler (Robin Thomson) is welcoming the owner's sister Beatrice Lacey (Susie Fairfax) and her husband Giles Lacy (Gareth Thomas). Manderley' owner, the recently widowed Maxim de Winter (Anthony Calf), has re-married during an overseas trip and is about to return with his new bride. They are joined by the estate manager Frank Crawley (Derek Hutchinson), and a lively discussion about the new Mrs de Winter ensues. They are interrupted by the arrival of the de Winters, who overhear part of the (not very flattering) conversation.
The new bride is left with Beatrice for a time. Unfortunately, Beatrice does not appear to understand the concept tact, let alone possess any. The resulting conversation with a shy twenty-one year old bride who has had little contact with society provided the audience with a great deal of laughter. However, Beatrice means well with her advice on "improving yourself", and Mrs de Winter takes it as such.
Introductions to the household later that evening include the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers (Janet Foggo). It is clear from her first entrance that this is A Bad Person. She rapidly confirms this in her discussion with Mrs de Winter about the housekeeping arrangements. It is made clear to the new Mrs de Winter that she is no fit replacement for the late Rebecca, who was perfect in every way. The subtle malice is striking in comparison with Beatrice's honest bluntness.
Some six weeks later, and the morning before the fancy dress ball. Mrs de Winter loves her husband deeply, but is having doubts about her ability to fit in to local society. She also believes that Maxim still loves Rebecca, not her. Mrs Danvers is, of course, doing her best to undermine Mrs de Winter's self-confidence, but shows a friendly face over a potential costume for the ball. She displays a beautiful old costume which belonged to Maxim's grandmother, and suggests using this rather than the costume that Mrs de Winter had planned to wear. It is to be a secret until the start of the ball.
Giles and Beatrice arrive for the ball, dressed in genuine Arab costumes borrowed from a friend. Unfortunately, I'm too well-mannered to take photographs during a performance, so you'll just have to imagine Gareth dressed as an Arab sheik, and proving what he's wearing underneath (shorts and suspender socks, if you must know). The family group are waiting for Mrs de Winter and speculating on her costume, when she arrives at the top of the stairs. Gasps of horror, and a cry of rage from her husband as he dashes his wine glass to the floor.
After the interval, we return to Manderley during the ball. Maxim has received a mysterious and urgent summons, and left the ball without speaking to anyone. Mrs de Winter, wearing an ordinary evening dress, comes looking for her husband. She is greatly distressed because he has not looked or spoken to her all evening, and she fears that he believes she wore the costume on purpose. Giles and Beatrice try to comfort her, saying that nobody could think that she had any idea that the costume had last been worn by Rebecca at the fancy dress ball two years previously. None of the guests have any inkling that something is wrong.
Maxim returns, and explains that he had been called away by the police. A diver sent to look at a shipwreck has found the boat Rebecca was drowned in - and there is a body inside. Maxim had identified a body found several weeks after the boating accident as Rebecca, so it is assumed that she was not alone on the boat.
When they are alone, Maxim confesses to his wife that he knows Rebecca was alone on the boat, because he put her body aboard after killing her. Rebecca had told him shortly after their marriage what she was really like, and that she had no intention of giving up her pleasures. He had tolerated her behaviour as long as she kept it discreet and away from Manderley, but eventually she grew bolder and began to bring her lovers home - particularly her cousin Jack Favell (Robin Lermitte). Maxim had taken his pistol and gone to the beach hut to challenge them one night, but found Rebecca alone. She told him that she was pregnant by Jack, and Maxim would have to live with Jack's child as the heir to Manderley, never able to prove that the child was not his. Maxim's response was to shoot her, and stage a drowning accident.
Mrs de Winter's response is to assure her husband that she still loves him, and that the police will be able to prove nothing against him. Personally, I think she's as batty as the housekeeper. They face questioning by the authorities, in the shape of the local magistrate Colonel Julyan (Finlay Welsh), but the inquest verdict is suicide, state of mind undetermined. This verdict is not accepted by Favell, who had received a note from Rebecca the night she died, saying that she needed to meet him to tell him something important. He attempts to blackmail de Winter, whose reponse is to call his bluff by calling in Colonel Julyan who happens to be outside.
Favell calls on Mrs Danvers to confirm the relationship between himself and Rebecca, and she does so, saying that Rebecca always told her everything, and had despised the lot of them. This and the note provide sufficient evidence for Julyan to have to investigate further. He needs to know more about Rebecca's activities that day, and Mrs Danvers triumphantly produces Rebecca's dairy. The first crack in Mrs Danver's armour appears when it is discovered that Rebecca had visited a doctor - something she had not told her devoted servant about. The doctor's phone number is in the dairy, and he is able to tell them what Rebecca had consulted him about. He had diagnosed untreatable cancer, which would have killed her within a few months and caused her great pain before the end.
This provides a very clear motive for suicide, and Favell has to accept that he will never convince others that Rebecca was murdered, as he still believes. Mrs Danvers, broken by the revelation that her beloved Rebecca had not shared this with her, resigns with the intention of leaving the house the same night. Maxim is horrified by the realisation that in killing Rebecca he was actually doing what she wanted, and she had won after all. Mrs de Winter is happy in the knowledge that her beloved husband is now safe.
There is however, one more scene to play. Late that evening, as the de Winters are discussing the day's events, the cry of fire goes up. Mrs Danvers, dressed in the ball costume and obviously insane, sweeps into view on the landing. In spite of everything, Maxim tries to rescue her, but collapses and is dragged away by his wife as the building starts to fall around them. We finish where we started, with Mrs de Winter in a spotlight speaking to the audience, joined by her husband as she describes how they are today.
The play is very effective both as a thriller and as a psychological study. This was helped by the fact that everything was right - a good script, excellent acting, and a set and lighting that were absolutely stunning. The combination of the set and lighting design was most ably used to manipulate the audience's emotions. For an idea of what I'm talking about, see the "What weighs 70 kilograms" scene in "Orbit", or any decent Hammer film. This culminated in the collapse of the house, which was very convincing (particularly to those of us in the front row - one or two people jumped). Actually thinking about it afterwards, I think only one flight of the staircase and a beam moved, but a combination of sound effects, large quantities of smoke and careful lighting made it appear that the whole set was coming down.
Acting - this was interesting, as five of the actors had been in the performance of Jeckyll & Hyde I'd seen three weeks previously. Gareth's roles (and accents) were quite different, as he was part of the comic relief in this play, and I was very impressed with how convincing he was in both. His part was relatively small, but had some of the best lines, and he was very, very funny. This isn't just my biased opinion, by the way. My aunt had been to the previous night's performance with some friends, and had said the same thing.
All in all, a great evening's entertainment, and well worth the money. Now, if only a few more of the cast will play in towns where I can combine visiting relatives with a trip to the theatre...
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Last updated on 07th of June 1997.