Cambridge's leading amateur theatre production company

Established 1981

by  Daphne du Maurier   directed by Lyn Chatterton

The ADC Theatre, Cambridge, December 2008

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Two Reviews of Rebecca
by Margaret Clark & Colin McLean

A recent visit to Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor opened my mind up to Daphne du Maurier  and I looked forward to this production.Watched by an audience who had read the book, knew the plot and wanted to be reminded of the Cinderella theme, 'Rebecca' was written in the late thirties when matinees had an interval tea tray service and the audience on returning home changed for dinner prepared by their staff.  This was the setting for Manderley, a beautiful homewith staff comprising land agent, housekeeper, butlers and maids.  Unfortunately by the end of the week the staff had been depleted by illness and Christine Easterfield is to be congratulated on seamlessly playing three servants in one aided by David Brown as Frith, the butler, played  with respectful compliance'

'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley' and with a beautiful set  comprising drawing room, gallery and the omnipresent sea viewed through two grand windows who wouldn't.  A build up to the entrance of the owner, Maxim de Winter (a good performance from Julian Cooper) and his new bride a  21 year old employed in Monte Carlo as a companion and probably 'trimming her own hats' (an exquisite performance from  Alexandra Fye).  The theme of 'class' reinforced during the wait by Maxim's sister,Bea  (an alarming Steph Hamer) with talk of the Hunt, and a Wooster performance from Mike Milne as her husband. But only one entered, Maxim, at ease in his own house; and another build up to the new bride, plain, nervous, tongue tied.  Clever!

A fancy dress party.  Bea and Giles exotically costumed, what fun!   But it isn't fun when the second Mrs. de W. enters wearing a dress previously worn by the first Mrs. de W. at the suggestion of housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers' a well balanced performance from Angela Chatterton, not overly sinister but using every opportunity to censure the incomer with icy politeness. She casts the shadow of her previous employer over the
young woman and  the long speech following the dress debacle  held the audience.

And then comes the confession.  Maxim tells his bride that he shot Rebecca, his first wife, towed the boat containing her body out to sea and scuppered it.  A maroon, a ship is sinking and we know that retribution is nigh.  Does Frank Crawley's  'Diver, eh?' hint that he has suspicions?  A loyal employee ready to walk over hot coals for sir and madam, a quiet, deferential performance from Colin Lawrence.

An inquest brings in a verdict of suicide.  But Rebecca's lover, Jack Favell, Guy Holmes  taking full advantage of his two scenes as  lecherous male and then drunken blackmailer, suspects the truth. The noose tightens as the boat builder (a nice cameo from Andrew Shepherd)  reveals that a spike had been driven through the hull. P.C.  Plod elevated to Chief Constable by Hugh Mellor states the blindingly obvious, that if the verdict of suicide is wrong then for the boat to be scuppered miles from shore another person must have been aboard.Our eyes switch to the couple on the settee, they are silent and still.   Ditto the audience.The proverbial pin would have shaken theatre foundations. And yet Maxim by a twist of fate is saved by Mrs. Danvers.
She produces Rebecca's diary   recording an appointment on the day of her death with a London doctor.A telephone call to that doctor confirms Rebecca was terminally ill.  She was not a person who could face pain.  The verdict of suicide stands.  A suggestion that the newly-weds should go away while gossip settles down causes a relaxed Mrs. de W. to refuse smiling 'It's good to be home.'

 Was it the perfect murder?  Or suicide by demoralised husband? Or do they equate to the same thing? I mull over the production on the homeward bus.   It's only a play, an escape from the driving rain.But surely the aim of a good production is to remain in the memory of the audience.The director, Lyn Chatterton, cast and supporting team achieved that.  Congratulations!

* * * * *

Few adaptations of famous novels can have enjoyed such immediate and lasting success as 'Rebecca'. With this production Bawds showed us just how enduring that appeal is, for this was a treat of an evening. This production was very much the sum of its parts for every aspect contributed to its effectiveness and memorability, the strength of the performances, the assured direction, the striking stage design and wardrobe, imaginative lighting and perfectly matched sound .. indeed down to individual properties and the programme itself. Attention to detail paying off very handsomely indeed.It is worth recalling that two of the principal characters are never seen, namely Rebecca herself, of course, and the sea. In the novel, and here on stage, the sea is a subtly menacing presence and this for me was one of the evening's triumphs.

The play opened strongly, driven in particular by Steph Hamer's pacy and admirably strident Beatrice Lacy, and we were drawn immediately into the action. Mike Milne,as Giles Lacy, had some richly comic moments (not least of all when dressed for the ball) and David Brown's Frith was a very well‐judged adjunct to the various visitors and comings and goings at Manderley. He seemed perfectly suited to his environs.So too did Alice, Catherine and Robert (Christine Easterfield, Katie Charles and David Hazelehurst); often appearing to be part of the background, as for these three, can be far from easy. Deftly handled.

By the time the principals appeared we were very well set in the milieu. Frank Crawley (Colin Lawrence) provides a vital link to the Rebecca era at Manderley and his striking performance was etched with wistful memory of happier, easier times. It fell to Angela Chatterton, as the redoubted Mrs Danvers, to bring Manderley's brooding past into the present, a task she achieved with formidable skill. When Maxim and Mrs (notably bereft of a Christian name) de Winter reach Manderley we are ready for things to be less than easy, and so they prove. Both Julian Cooper (of whom we simply do not see enough year on year) and Alexandra Fye made these complex characters, with their shallowly-rooted marriage, come fully to life. Very strong individual performances combining to form a wholly convincing, ill-matched and, surely, fated couple. They both deserve great credit for maintaining our fascination in what is, by modern standards at least, a play that is overlong by perhaps as much as half an hour.

The irrepressibly caddish Jack Favell (a gift of a part, duly and admirably seized upon by Guy Holmes) adds a further note of discord to the plot. Hugh Mellor and Rosemary Eason (Colonel and Mrs Julyan) brought their considerable talents to the latter stages of the play, indeed, Colonel Julyan adds to the enigma at the close itself. To what extent he is complicit in any 'cover up' is uncertain but may certainly be surmised. Both Sandra Birnie (Mrs Fortescue‐Coleman) and Andrew Shepherd (William Tabb) added further assured realism to the storyline and in particular to the denouement.

The deft hand of the director, Lyn Chatterton, was visible throughout and the naturalism and conviction of the story owed huge amounts to her. Once again, af east for the eye and a triumph of invention too, Tony Broscomb's set was another huge contributor to this undoubted success. The individual costumes were so well suited to the characters as to be almost taken for granted, the sure sign of lots of very hard work at the planning and execution stages. Further congratulations to Ed Hopkins, Graham Potter and the tireless and efficient Penguins. What a way to mark the splendidly revamped ADC Theatre. All involved should be reflecting on a very fine close to the Bawds' 2008 season; another feather in their cap indeed.