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Rebecca at Charing Cross Theatre | Review

There are some very earnest attempts to maximise dramatic effect in this melodrama, which has very lush orchestrations – the production has already made headlines for having an eighteen-strong orchestra in a venue that seats a maximum of 265 – but an almost absurdly clunky set. The slotting together of set pieces and pulling apart of others could be audibly heard behind curtains that had been drawn across the stage during supposedly more private scenes. The stage-wide fixed staircase, regularly used throughout, wouldn’t look out of place at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (capacity: 2,196), and the costumes are all suitably from the interwar period.

REBECCA: Richard Carson (Maxim de Winter) and Lauren Jones (I). Photo Mark Senior.
REBECCA: Richard Carson (Maxim de Winter) and Lauren Jones (I). Photo Mark Senior.

Completely unsurprisingly for those who have read the novel and/or seen any of the various film adaptations, the title character isn’t in the cast list: the show’s critical incident has already happened by the time the curtain rises on Act One Scene One, and Maxim de Winter (Richard Carson), a wealthy aristocrat, is widowed. There are, according to the show’s programme, thirty-nine musical numbers in all (interestingly, the publicity claims there are twenty-two), including reprises, which makes for a slightly unnecessarily long evening. Some subtle humour creeps in from time to time but there were other more serious moments that had me struggling to maintain a straight face, most notably when it was asserted that the English Channel cries out ‘Rebecca’. It does not. Or perhaps it does, but only in the imagination of housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Kara Lane).

Maxim, on vacation in Monte Carlo, falls in love with a young woman named only as ‘I’ (Lauren Jones), and then later, as Mrs de Winter, not to be confused with the first Mrs de Winter. But she is a commoner, and is therefore made fun of behind her back by the large staff at Manderley, a large country estate with the sort of mansion at its centrepiece that would, if it were real, probably be run as a tourist attraction by the National Trust these days. But the production struggles to provide the audience with the strong emotional connection needed to justify the intensely soaring melodies. It’s trying too hard to tug at the heartstrings, which only provides a sense that one is being, or trying to be, emotionally manipulated.

It says something when one feels tempted to root for Jack Favell (Alex James-Ward), cousin of the late Rebecca de Winter, who is supposed to be, alongside Mrs Danvers, an antagonist, just because he gets a relatively jaunty tune in the second half, which stands in marked contrast to the exaggerated emotions of many of the other songs. I did feel for Carson’s Maxim in ‘I’ll Never Forget Her Smile’, in the sense that there were so many musical styles within the same song the man’s sentiments were lurching from one extreme to the other and back again. That said, the sound balance between orchestra and cast was excellent, and Jones as Mrs de Winter does exceptionally well in taking her character, very convincingly, from a sheepish and unsure youngster who didn’t want to rock the boat too much to a confident and assertive figure of authority.

The second half is more engaging than the first, and while it never departs very far from Daphne du Maurier’s novel, it was evidently never going to be a song-and-dance extravaganza, even when the de Winters host a ball. Only the title musical number, ‘Rebecca’, remains mildly memorable. “Oh well,” a fellow theatregoer said to me on the way out. The score is beautiful. The actors are beautiful. The set is beautiful. As they say at Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club, “even the orchestra is beautiful”. But the beauty seems to mask the eeriness and unease that a tale about the ghosts of the past haunting the lives of those still present a little too well.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Rebecca, with 22 original songs, is a gripping thriller full of intrigue and surprises that sticks closely to the original novel. Wealthy Maxim De Winter brings his naïve new wife home to his Cornish estate, Manderley, where the manipulative housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, resents the new wife’s intrusion. She persuades her that she is an unworthy replacement for the first Mrs. De Winter, the glamorous and mysterious Rebecca, who perished in a drowning accident, with tragic results…

The world-famous novel was also turned into a celebrated Alfred Hitchcock film in 1940, starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson, George Sanders and Gladys Cooper. It was nominated for 11 Oscars, winning two awards; Best Picture and Best Cinematography.

Richard Carson (Maxim de Winter) has appeared in several major West End musicals including ‘Les Miserable’s, ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’, ‘Mamma Mia!’ and ‘Miss Saigon’.

Lauren Jones (Second Mrs de Winter, ‘I’) recently appeared in the West End production of ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ as Trish and alternate Bonnie.

Kara Lane (Mrs Danvers) was Alice in ‘The Addams Family – the Musical Comedy’, Winifred Banks in ‘Mary Poppins’, Reno Sweeney in ’Anything Goes’ at Kilworth House, ‘Mary Magdalene’ in Jesus Christ Superstar’ and Magenta in ‘The Rocky Horror Show’.

The rest of the cast are: Alex James-Ward, Piers Bate, Sarah Harlington, David Breeds, Shirley Jameson, Neil Moors, Nicholas Lumley, Nigel-Joseph Francis, Elliot Swann, Scott McClure, Emily Apps, Melanie Bright, Gail MacKinnon, Tarisha Rommick, James Mateo-Salt, Rosie Glossop.

Original Book and Lyrics – Michael Kunze
Music and Orchestrations – Sylvester Levay
English Book Adaptation by Christopher Hampton
English Lyrics by Christopher Hampton and Michael Kunze
Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier
Director – Alejandro Bonatto
Choreographer – Ron Howell
Musical Director – Robert Scott
Production Designer – Nicky Shaw
Lighting Designer – David Seldes
Sound Designer – Andy Johnson
Projection Designer – Matt Powell
Casting – Stephen Crockett / Grindrod Burton Casting
Producer – Steven M. Levy for Charing Cross Theatre Productions Limited

Worldwide Stage Rights: VBW International GmbH
Linke Wienzeile 6, 1060 Vienna, Austria

04 September – 18 November
4th September to 19th September
Mon & Wed to Sat 7:30pm
Sat & Sun Matinee 3pm

20th September Onwards
Tues – Sat 7.30pm
Wed Matinee 2.30pm
Sat & Sun Matinee 3pm

Running Time: 2:15
Age Guidance: 12+

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