Last Updated on 23rd September 2023
Our very own theatreCat Libby Purves reviews Rebecca the Musical at Charing Cross Theatre.
Rebecca the Musical
Charing Cross Theatre
LAST NIGHT I DREAMT I WENT TO MANDERLEY YET AGAIN…
Daphne Du Maurier’s story is almost a national myth, what with the grand house on the towering cliffs, the terrifying housekeeper, and Maxim de Winter’s distaste for self-willed sexy women and his preference for being miserable than risking people talking about his divorce. Not to mention the stiff upper lip: when Nigel Havers was due to play the hero I asked him how on earth a modern chap was going to manage the clipped line “I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool”. He admitted they had decided he’d shout it from offstage in the hotel bathroom, to avoid the giggles.
So sticking close to the immortal novel takes nerve and an ability to suppress some of your sense of humour. Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay , not being British, manage that sincerity very well – they are German-language composers of renown, and this show ran three seasons in Vienna from 2006, and probably , God help us, increased Austrian understanding of the Brexit mentality. Christopher Hampton writes the English lyrics, some clunky and some rather inspired, the best being Mrs Danvers’ crazy love song to her dead Rebecca – “Invincible, unsinkable!”. There is fun in Mrs van Hopper, in the county-set badinage of the in-laws Giles and Beatrice (“The Old Country Ways”), and an unexpected music-hall romp near the end from Alex James-Ward as Favell in a cheekychappie check suit. Right in the middle of the Rebecca’s-corpse crisis, which might shock Daphne. Mind you, she did say in an interview that Rebecca was “a phase”.
But in every other way the novel is deftly followed, all the most famous lines and incidents elegantly polished, down to Colonel Julian the magistrate and poor mad Ben. Lauren Jones is small and sweetly dowdy as the second Mrs de Winter, sweet-voiced especially in the quieter, better numbers: Kunze and Levay give her a few too many belting crescendos though , to the extent that my companion murmured “the curse of FROZEN!”. Kara Lane is a pillar of black grimness as Mrs Danvers, with some terrific over-the-top numbers (she definitely got the biggest curtain-call cheer). The score is mainly unmemorable but richly romantic, with an 18 piece orchestra with some grand storm music and dramatic movie-style chords.
But oh, the joy of the ensemble! Call me Pollyanna, but I am a sucker for shows in which the cast seem to be having a blast of a time. The mood is infectious, and one of the pleasures of this, the old Players Theatre, is that few productions can resist the temptation of sending cast members dashing up and down the aisles and between the layers of stalls. The mob turn up originally as the Manderley staff , with a riotous number in which they despise the new Mrs de M as much as, in the novel, she fears they do. They have a spell as fisherfolk and lifeboatmen in the shipwreck storm, and again turn up as excitable neighbours at the inquest. Their choruses lift the mood magically , every time we get a bit bored with the moody couple. And by the way, very good stalls prices for a West End house. Decent seat for £ 25, what’s not to like? I enjoyed it.
Rebecca runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until 18 November 2023