Rebecca, adapted for the stage by Clifford Williams from the novel by Daphne du Maurier. Tempo Theatre directed by Jon Elphick at Belconnen Theatre, 2007: August 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11 at 7.30pm; August 4, 9, 11 at 2pm; August 5 at 4pm. Bookings 6247 4456 or www.philo.org.au/rebecca
Daphne du Maurier may have been taken seriously by people in the 1930s who were easily titillated by the idea of murder among the upper classes, but Rebecca, at least in this adaptation for the stage, today is laughable. Instead of the ending, when Mrs Danvers gets her revenge, being a dramatic finale, the opening night audience could not help but laugh at Maxim de Winter’s line “Oh, the West Wing’s on fire” instantly accompanied by smoke, red floodlights and sound of an old-fashioned firebell.
I note that the 1938 novel is still in print, and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 movie is now a popular DVD. Clifford Williams is to blame for making Tempo Theatre’s task very difficult. Perhaps an option might have been to play it as a farce – that would have produced more lively theatre.
Within the attempt to play this post-neo-gothic romantic murder mystery as if it were a representation of reality, only two actors fully made the grade.
Cheryl Browne as the twisted Mrs Danvers actually made me feel creepy, and persuaded me that she believed what she said in her set speeches (the only decently written speeches in the script).
But the top award goes to Nikki Higgins as the young second Mrs de Winter. Despite having little to play with, or against, from the other actors (except John Rogers as the butler Frith), and generally slow pacing which killed the suspense, she looked and felt the part of the shy young working girl picked up by the indolent rich. Her difficult position in being brought up against the class-ridden rules of de Winter’s society was acted so well it reminded me of Princess Diana’s experience moving up into royalty. Suddenly I could see some relevance to modern times, and some connection to what du Maurier probably had in mind in her original novel.
It was Higgins’ performance in this central role which held the play together.
Return to Frank McKone's Home Page